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Heritage Society

Invisible History - A Public Archaeology Program

Dig In!
Looking for an exciting and interesting way to make a difference in conserving the history and stories of the fur trade era in western Canada? Would you like to volunteer alongside an expert archaeologist and learn through hands on experience about archaeological field and lab techniques? The Invisible History Public Archaeology Program provides a unique opportunity for archaeology enthusiasts to join a professionally supervised dig at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site of Canada. Experience the hard work and thrills of discovery while assisting with a professional archaeological project that is part of historic preservation initiatives.

The 2012 season will focus on field study at the Hudson’s Bay Company Fort which was occupied by fur traders, clerks, voyagers, tradesmen, and First Nations between 1835 and 1861. Each program is for four full, sequential days. During each session, a volunteer crew of up to 10 participants will excavate a portion of the third trading post property at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, learn about archaeological field and lab methods and techniques, and attend presentations addressing current historical research at the site. This is a hands-on practical experience which offers participants the opportunity to develop new skills and a sense of achievement, but more importantly, a contribution and investment of their time to recover and protect information about the past. Although the crew will spend much of their time with trowels in hand, there will be ample opportunity for experiencing the sights and sounds of the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site Visitor Centre, interpretive program, and the innovative Métis Culture program.

Parks Canada archaeologists are involved in a number of projects. Among other things, they have to deal with social, technological, and climate changes that require a continual adaptation. In July 2010 Parks Canada archaeologists made a major discovery when they found the HMS Investigator, a British naval ship that was stranded in the Northwest Passage 155 years ago. The wreck was located at the bottom of Mercy Bay, just off Banks Island in the Northwest Territories. The site of the wreck is in Aulavik National Park.

What’s below the surface at Rocky Mountain House?
Archaeological research has a long and rich life at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site. The first dig happened in 1937. Archaeologists continue to monitor and preserve our cultural treasures. Today new tools and methods help them piece together the puzzles of the past. Fur trade posts were forts. “House” was the common name given to these posts. The last fur trade post at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site is special to us. It was the first archaeological site within Alberta. Archaeologists across the country call it “Site 1R”, and Parks Canada archaeologists have unearthed thousands of artefacts on site. Our visitor centre displays a selection of metal artefacts such as nails and projectiles, bone artefacts, knives and weapons for you to examine. Archaeologists revisit our site often and check the state of our cultural treasures. They also start new searches to solve more mysteries.


Archaeology photos on this page courtesy of Dr. Peter Francis.

ProjectInvisible History, A Public Archaeology Program
SponsorConfluence Heritage Society and Parks Canada
Project DirectorDr. Peter Francis, University of Calgary
LocationRocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada
Session datesAugust 14th to 17th and August 21st to 24th, 2012
Minimum LengthFour days
Registration deadlineAugust 13th, 2012
Project SizeMaximun 10 participants per session
Minimum AgeFifteen years
Cost$250.00 per person per session

Did You know?

The outline of the 1835 - 1861 fur trade post can be seen in an aerial photograph taken at sunrise.


The North Saskatchewan River relentlessly carries away its banks.  Archaeologists work to recover information from the past before it is lost.

Major slumping along the banks occurred during the June flood of 2005. 

Historical Rocky Mountain House

The 1835 - 1861 fur trading post can be seen in the background of this Paul Kane painting.

Kane (1810 - 1871) travelled with fur trade canoe fleets to the west between 1846 and 1848, making about 700 sketches of western scenery and people.  He published an account of his travels as well.



Information Package with schedule and registration forms.

Registration forms only.

Unfortunately, due to government cutbacks, the 2012 program has been cancelled

YouTube video of 2011 dig

courtesy Parks Canada


Participants are responsible for ensuring their own accomodations.  The town of Rocky Mountain House has a number of pleasant places to stay.  Check out for details.

There are a number of campgrounds near the Site as well.


Please contact us through email:

The Confluence Heritage Society or

Parks Canada

or telephone

The Confluence Heritage Society 1.403.845.6680

Parks Canada 1.403.845.2412

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