Science Grab Bag


When did the first humans appear in the Athabasca River Basin?

Answer: It is not known precisely when the first humans reached the river basin, however evidence suggests that they reached what is now known as Alberta around 10,000BC when receding glaciers exposed an ice free corridor that stretched down the rocky mountains into the middle of North America.

Who was the first European explorer to reach the Rocky Mountains?

Answer: Anthony Henday in 1754, although Henry Kelsey may have reached Alberta as early as 1688.

At the point of initial European contact in Alberta during the 1700's, which native tribes inhabited or frequented the Athabasca region?

Answer: Since the native bands at this time were highly nomadic it is difficult to say exactly, but it is believed that the Beaver were the major tribe in the area, residing mainly in the Peace River country and the Lac La Biche regions. The Blackfoot also occasionally visited the area, but had a home base in the Saskatchewan River valley. Farther north near Lake Athabasca the Chipewan were quite common. The central region of the Athabasca River Basin was somewhat of a buffer zone separating these distinct, but largely tolerant tribes.

Where does the word 'Athabasca' originate, and what does it mean?

Answer: One theory is that the town was obviously named after the river itself (and hence, the river after the lake into which it flowed), with the lake/river getting their name from the language "Athapaskan" which was spoken by the Beaver and Chipewan tribes that lived in the region prior to being driven out by the Cree early in the 1800's. However, the river was not always called the Athabasca, but was actually named "Elk River" by the Beaver (and appears that way on Alexander Mackenzie' 1801 map). Therefore, an alternate suggestion is that 'Athabasca' may be a Cree term for "where there are reeds." Both explanations appear to be equally probable.

When was the first permanent settlement established at the Athabasca town site?

Answer: Although there were many other permanent settlements in Alberta during the 1800's, the Athabasca River valley remained completely uncultivated and untouched until the 1870's, save one Native encampment at Calling Lake. It was not until the 1870's when Richard Hardisty suggested a northward trail connecting Ft. Edmonton to the southern loop of the Athabasca River (the current Athabasca town site), which eventually became the historic Athabasca Landing Trail. Through the 1870's and early 1880's Athabasca Landing was only a storage site for furs and other goods, with Hudson Bay Company employees stationed there for only weeks at a time. However, in 1884 Leslie Wood, a HBC post manager, became the first permanent resident at Athabasca Landing. The town continued to grow when, in 1886, the HBC erected a retail store and the forest adjacent to the trail was burnt to make settlement more feasible.

Science Outreach Athabasca - September 26, 2012

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