British Block Cairn National Historic Site of Canada
© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, Harry A. Tatro.
Canadian Forces Base Suffield, Suffield, Alberta
Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Event, Person, Organization:
Plains First Nations
British Block Cairn
Research Report Number:
1973-017, 2006 SDC-001
Description of Historic Place
British Block Cairn National Historic Site of Canada, at the Canadian Forces Base Suffield, 65 kilometres north of Medicine Hat, Alberta. Set on a high knoll on open prairie, the site consists of a large boulder cairn surrounded by a ring of stones, dating from around 1400 C.E. Within this ring are numerous other rock arrangements, including brands (rock arrangements in the shape of Latin alphabetic characters) and a human effigy figure. Located outside of the ring is a group of tipi rings, arranged in a rough arch shape, as well as numerous smaller cairns, mounds, and individual tipi rings. Official recognition refers to the four-hectare polygon of land encompassing the cairn, the surrounding medicine wheel, and both nearby groups of tipi rings.
British Block Cairn was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1973 because: it is one of the best examples of a most striking site type: a large boulder cairn; it includes other rock arrangements, such as a boulder effigy, other small cairns and clusters of tipi rings; it is an important example of Niitsitapi cultural heritage on the western Canadian plains.
British Block Cairn is one of the best examples of a most striking site type: a large boulder cairn. The site encompasses numerous rock arrangements such as a boulder effigy, small cairns, clusters of tipi rings and, of particular note, a large boulder cairn measuring 9 metres in diameter and 2 metres in height. Set upon a high knoll, the site is a landmark visible for 15 kilometres or more. A large seasonal lake is found at the foot of the hill, which overlooks an extinct glacial outwash system to the south and east. Excavations at the site have yielded a considerable number of artifacts, including distinctive specimens such as stone pipes and unique pottery forms. Digging also suggests that there might have been a small burial pit at the centre of the pile. According to archaeological findings, the construction of the stone formations begins circa 1400 C.E., with additions being made a various points since then. The potential spiritual significance of the rocks and physical elements within the site are important for the cultural heritage of the Niitsitapi on the western Canadian plains.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1973.
The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include: its location on the Canadian Forces Base Suffield, north of Medicine Hat, Alberta; its setting on a high knoll in a region of rolling mixed grass-prairie on the Great Plains; the placement and relationship between the rocks that constitute both the cairn and the surrounding stone rings, the small cairns, the boulder effigy figures, and the many smaller stone circles or “tipi rings” in the vicinity; the composition and integrity of the physical landscape and natural features associated with the site including the large ephemeral lake at the foot of the hill and the grass ground cover; the rocks and physical elements with regard to their potential spiritual significance and associated cultural attributes; the integrity of any surviving or as yet unidentified archaeological remains which may be found within the site in their original placement and extent; the surrounding viewscapes including that of the extinct glacial outwash system to the south and east.