Since the official confirmation of its location in 1995, the site of the Original Humboldt telegraph station and its small settlement has been of great interest to historians and archeologists. The site has seen digs over the past number of years by Western Heritage, the Saskatchewan Archeological Society, and now the University of Saskatchewan Archeological Field School.  

On the evening of Thursday, May 23, Dr. Glenn Stuart delivered an informal and informative chat to a packed house in the Humboldt and District Museum. Stuart talked about the Field School’s involvement, saying that his students are relative newcomers to the site, but that it serves as a wonderful training ground and the digs have yielded numerous artifacts and some surprises.  

“There are actually three substantial components to the site,” said Dr. Stuart in his introduction. “There’s the telegraph station. Because of when this site was in use, in 1885 with the Riel Resistance, the military came through there. The third component is there was also Indigenous camp there.” 

Stuart admitted his background in pre-contact Indigenous archeology has him interested in that aspect of the encampment on the Carlton Trail. He explained that the trail was the key avenue of passage for travellers from Winnipeg northwest toward Edmonton, and it was a relatively wide swath of area as opposed to a narrow strip.  

The Humboldt Telegraph station was one of a linear network, about 100 miles apart along the trail, that was a transmission point for information critical to everything from military operations, commercial ventures, and even medical information.  

Stuart dived into the actual mechanics of the dig, saying that there were three key ways to identify target areas. Of course, he said you can start off randomly but then focus on specific areas that yield the highest number of artifacts. You can examine the geophysical properties like slopes to guide you. These days, modern innovations, like ground penetrating radar, search for anomalies that give clues to long hidden treasures.  

“The anomaly found by things like GRP indicates that spot is different from the surrounding area. It doesn’t say anything about what is there.” 

That’s when students from the field school set up one square metre quadrants and begin the painstaking process of gradually removing topsoil, up to 30 centimetres deep, and sifting through the sediment to uncover everything from fishbones, to glass insulator artifacts, to fossils that may have been uncovered and harboured by some of the original site’s residents.  

Every artifact is photographed in situ (in its original place) with a board that identifies the exact location, depth and date of the find. Stuart talked about the importance of those details.  

“It’s the context that is crucial – as to where it is physically in space – and how it relates to other artifacts. So, everything is measured carefully, from the southwest corner. How many centimetres north is it; how many centimetres east is it.” 

Creating this spatial map preserves the physical layout of the original find in a detailed perspective so that the artifact can be removed, tagged, and carry with it all the data collected.  

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Stuart talked about the importance of the field school, not only in contributing to the historical bank of knowledge, but to educating students and preparing them to undertake work in the archeological field. In fact, there is a shortage of archeologists, and consulting and engineering firms have been accepting landscaping workers and outdoor interpreters to get their jobs done.  

He also talked about the importance of the Humboldt site to the field school. The site is rich with finds, but the governance allows students and faculty to work at a more relaxed pace than at other more strictly administered sites. That allows more time for instruction, questions, and ultimately provides for a better learning environment.  

The site also provides a wonderful opportunity for community involvement, said Stuart. 

While other sites have proven much more restrictive, Original Humboldt, under the stewardship of its committee and the Cultural Services Department, has been more open to visitors and engagement opportunities. 

“One of the first things that happened was an invitation for me to come and talk here,” said Stuart, whose love of sharing knowledge is obvious through his lecturing enthusiasm. “That aspect of community involvement is really important.” 

Visitors are welcome to attend the site during the dig, which is in operation throughout the week until mid-June, weather permitting. 

Stay tuned for more from the dig site and on an upcoming tour planned by the Cultural Services Department.