Elk Island National Park of Canada

Beaver Hills People

Elk Island National Park has an extensive cultural history dating back to the receding of the glaciers. There are 227 Native sites recorded, most of which were campsites and stone tool-making sites, and 13 non-native sites which include two refuse pits, remains of homesteader cabins, and the site of Alberta's first Forest Ranger station.

Aboriginal Peoples in Elk Island

Sarcee encampment
Sarcee encampment
© Parks Canada / EI9912310001, 1991/10/23
Cree encampment in Aspen Parkland
Cree encampment in Aspen Parkland
© Parks Canada / EI9912310002, 1991/10/23

It is thought that the Sarcee were the first people to inhabit the area. Prior to the 1800s large bands of Cree forced the Sarcee into the surrounding plains. The Cree continued to inhabit the Beaver Hills. Europeans began to demand beaver pelts to satisfy their fashion interests. The Cree became the suppliers of the pelts to the fur traders.

By the mid 1800s, the Plains Cree had settled into familiar hunting patterns on the Canadian prairies. When hunting bison, the Plains Cree travelled and worked together in large bands and used a number of different hunting methods - hunting on horseback and using buffalo pounds (circular enclosures). All of the large ungulates were hunted but the bison was the most sought after. The bison provided a year-round source of food; skins provided materials for shelters, clothing and storage bags; and even the horns and bones were used.

The rich supply of plants and other game in the Beaver Hills area - roots and berries, and deer, moose, and elk, even fish - provided the local Aboriginal peoples with a varied and nutritious diet. With the depletion of the game and fur species, the Aboriginal peoples left the area.

Euro-Canadians and Settlement

German, English, and Ukranian settlers arrived in the area during 1881-82. They quickly began clearing land and farming the area around the Beaver Hills. The Beaver Hills were considered too hilly, wet and generally less suitable for agriculture. For this reason, very little serious land clearing and agriculture was attempted. Most, but not all homesteads on the land which would later become Elk Island, were primarily filed for speculative purposes.

When the Park was formed, only one family refused to sell to the Dominion Government. The Osters, who homesteaded in 1904 near present day Oster Lake, were plagued by bison and other animals eating their crops. C.H. Oster built a home, cleared 40 acres and lived in the Park until 1941.

Daniel Jordan was a squatter living in the Park. In 1909, when squatters rights were abolished, Mr. Jordan was given $900.00 and left the Park. The lake on his homestead area bears his name.