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Tag: Porcupine Hills

Farley Wuth, a moustached man wearing a bowler hat, shows an historic image.

New insights into pioneer families of Heath Creek

Recent historical findings have added more details to the chronologies of two early pioneer families from the Heath Creek district. Online research into the 1921 Canadian census and, via Ancestry.com, homestead records held by the Provincial Archives of Alberta, has accessed data and tales from the old days.

Earlier versions of the Lowe and Webber histories appeared in the book Prairie Grass to Mountain Pass, but the stories told here offer further insights into their agricultural endeavours of over a century ago. 

Claude and Gladys Lowe

E.D. Claude and Gladys Jessamine Lowe settled up the other valley from Heath Creek. Their homestead was on the southeast quarter of S15-T10-R1-W5. Lowe’s application went in on Jan. 29, 1909, and he received title to the property effective Oct. 16, 1914.

The homestead prospered as a mixed farming operation. Lowe had 10 acres plowed and five seeded in crops in 1910. By 1913, this had increased to 23½ acres in crops. His cattle production peaked in 1911 with 15 head. He started with seven horses in 1910, increasing to 11 a year later.

Frontier buildings reflected Lowe’s agricultural endeavours on the Canadian Prairies. He constructed a log house measuring 26 by 32 feet that featured a 16-by-20 addition. The dwelling may have been worth $500. A 26-by-42-foot stable, also built of logs, was valued at $350. A 16-by-16 pigpen was pegged at $15. Three-wire fencing stretching 2½ miles cost $250 to construct.

 

Ad for Darcys Nature Walk Crowsnest Pass

 

Community-minded Claude Lowe had the Heath Creek post office and also served as a trustee for Heath Creek School District No. 3481. This country school operated for over a generation, from 1917 to the late 1930s. Lowe had the distinction of owning the only telephone in the district, installed in 1921.

Mrs. Gladys Lowe, Mrs. Stephanie (Johnny) Spears and Mrs. Violet (Harry) Holmes all were sisters, being Buchanan-White daughters.

Claude and Gladys Lowe were wed on her parents’ ranch, south of Cowley, on March 12, 1912. The couple received a wedding present of $5 from Gladys’s parents.

The Lowes had four daughters: Helen Udys, born circa 1913; Pearl Marsahel (also known as Peggy), born circa 1916; Kathleen Adams, born circa 1918; and Molly. They had one son, Stanley Edwards, born circa 1920.

The Lowes left Heath Creek circa 1927, moving to Lethbridge, where they resided at 1816 Seventh Ave. N.

Claude was born in England circa 1884 and immigrated to Canada at the age of 20.

Gladys was born in Perth, Scotland, on Aug. 1, 1884, and immigrated to Canada at the age of 19, in 1903. She passed away in Lethbridge on Sept. 6, 1935.

The Lowes’ religious affiliation was with the Church of England.

 

 

Mr. and Mrs. Tom Webber

Two of the first settlers in the Heath Creek district were Mr. and Mrs. Tom Webber. Tom raised longhorn cattle on what is called the George Cleland place, now owned by the Burles family. The little stream that flows into Heath Creek was called Webber Creek.

The couple had one adopted son, Harold, whom they took as a baby after his mother died in a house fire.

The Webbers’ homestead was located on a fraction of S4-T10-R30-W4. They may have squatted on the quarter as early as 1898, with the official application going in on June 27, 1904.

Tom Webber received title for the property effective Nov. 4, 1908. He also became a naturalized citizen on Dec. 20, 1907, near the end of those proving-up years.

Webber made several agricultural improvements to the property, mostly of a ranching nature. He started with 70 head of cattle in 1904, which increased to 150 by 1908. Webber had 10 horses throughout the five-year proving-up era.

 

Ace of spades card on ad for Chase the Ace at the Pincher Creek Legion

 

By 1908, only four acres were plowed and seeded in crops. The property’s location in the rugged Heath Creek district of the Porcupine Hills made it conducive to ranching rather than farming. In his application, Webber made note of the topography’s excellent grazing conditions.

Webber constructed several sturdy frontier buildings on the homestead. Featured was a log house measuring 18 by 24 feet, with a 10-by-10 addition. It had a value of $200.

A collage of outbuildings collectively were worth $250. These included a shed, two stables for many of the ranch animals, two chicken houses, and a root house where vegetables from the family garden could be stored. One mile of fencing worth $150 dotted the property line.

A note by Webber said there were no minerals, particularly coal, on the quarter, which meant that the family had to obtain this valuable resource for heating their house from other locations or that timber was the source of fuel.

One of the farming tools Webber used was a wooden-beam walking plow, which is on exhibit at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village.

Further research still needs to be completed to add information on Mrs. Webber’s side of the family, including her given name.

 

 

Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

If the trout are gone, is it still Trout Creek?

On a summer’s day an unknown photographer focused his Kodak Brownie on four adults and a child, out for a day’s fishing on Trout Creek. The photograph, now in the Glenbow archives, is labelled “Fishermen with catch, Trout Creek, Alberta. July, 1902.”

And what a catch it was — a pile of native cutthroat trout, well over a hundred, and maybe 75 kilograms in total.

Native cutthroat trout lingered, though declining, over the next century or so in this tiny stream that flows off the east side of the Porcupine Hills in southwestern Alberta. They were still present in 2013 when Elliot Lindsay, a biologist with Trout Unlimited, caught his first cutthroat trout there. When Government of Alberta biologists sampled the stream in 2015 they recorded hundreds of trout.

By 2019, those hundreds had dwindled and Trout Unlimited caught only two from a subset of the same stream reaches. Unfortunately, contagion with genetic material from non-native rainbow trout was already well established.

Further investigations in 2021 by the Blackfoot Confederacy Tribal Council Native Trout Recovery Project, using environmental DNA, failed to find any strong evidence of pure-strain cutthroat trout in the watershed.

The population may not be functionally extirpated, but is teetering. If it falls off the edge, this is extirpation in real time, not ancient history, but virtually overnight, with a timeline of just yesterday. It might be like Hemingway’s description of bankruptcy: gradual, then sudden.

The loss of a native population of cutthroat trout calls for a post-mortem. How could this have happened, after the species was designated as threatened, a recovery strategy was implemented, and much fanfare was made of restoration efforts? Call it death by a thousand cuts, starting with the cruellest cut, timber harvest.

The Trout Creek watershed has been extensively logged, with large clear-cuts, a web of logging roads and inadequate streamside buffers. Roads begat more recreational traffic, with spirals of off-highway vehicle trails, adding to the linear density and sediment produced. Past cattle grazing may have reduced streamside willows, increasing bank instability.

Climate change brought persistent drought periods. Coupled with hydrologic shifts from logging, and the loss of beaver, the watershed has lost much of its ability to store moisture and stream sections periodically dry up. Recent protracted drought conditions, added to creeping hybridization, may be the last straw.

In the past, natural conditions may well have produced similar drought conditions and low or no surface flows. However, there would have been connections with other cutthroat populations in the wider watershed, allowing movement and replenishment under better flows. The problem is now there is no rescue option from downstream sources; cutthroat trout no longer exist in the lower watershed.

In the departmental and bureaucratic silos of land and resource management resides little chance for rescue, since few see (and are responsible) for the bigger picture — the additive, cumulative impacts. When no one is assigned to watch, no one seems responsible when the essential pieces of landscape and watershed integrity come unglued.

As Vic Adamowicz, a professor at the University of Alberta, observed, “Under Alberta’s public land management system, the cost of habitat loss is only considered after economics are accounted for, and there is no reason for resource sectors to co-ordinate activities, resulting in destructive cumulative effects.”

We inherit the world we allowed to happen; we find out, sometimes too late, the kind of world we create when things are allowed to proceed unhindered. And so, the native cutthroat population of Trout Creek, having persisted for at least a dozen millennia, comes to a whimpering end.

So ends a population intimately tied to the watershed, having been tested and evolved to deal with the considerable range of natural variation expressed over time beyond human imagination. This we do not mourn, either because we do not care to know, or we do not know to care.

Fortunately there are a few that do care. Organizations like Trout Unlimited and Cows and Fish plug away, increasing awareness about native trout and their plight. Bit by bit, metre and metre, mind by mind, they rebuild battered stream banks, close off excessive OHV trails, work with ranchers on riparian grazing management solutions, and help people see the trout for the trees.

Provincial fisheries biologists work on the development of a composite brood stock of pure-strain cutthroat trout. Once habitat conditions are stabilized and improved, this offers an opportunity to restock the stream and restore the cutthroat population.

To spell cutthroat trout you need only arrange 14 letters in the right order. But to make a trout you need a huge array of biotic and abiotic material and assemble it in precisely the right sequence.

Beyond water, both quantity and quality, intact forest and watershed, aquatic insects, a combination of stream characteristics, the right genetic code, population critical mass, movement ability, grappling with limiting factors, and the time to evolve to fit the stream environment, even knowing what the essential parts are and how they fit together may not be evident.

It is decidedly not like baking a cake. That is the challenge to restore native cutthroat trout to Trout Creek, now that they have largely gone missing.

In spite of the challenges, you can’t help but be impressed with the infectious optimism of people like Elliot Lindsay with Trout Unlimited, Amy McLeod with Cows and Fish, and many provincial fisheries biologists who will not give up on Trout Creek. They will need to think big, since real recovery can only happen at a watershed scale. It might require the equivalent of a moon shot to bring native cutthroat back to the stream.

While much work remains to deal with the proliferation of OHV trails and crossings, as well as riparian grazing management fixes, the fundamental task might be to restore the capability of the watershed to retain and store water.

This watershed once had dozens and dozens of beaver dams, effectively drought-proofing the system. When R.B. Miller, Alberta’s first fisheries biologist, initially surveyed the watershed in 1948, he commented on the number of beaver dams.

The Burke Creek Ranch has been situated in the Trout Creek watershed since 1890. Rick Burton, the third generation on the ranch, recalls the headwaters and tributaries being wetter and having more beaver dams in the 1960s and ’70s. Beaver activity is now spotty. But beavers still remain and that is a hopeful sign.

Restoration plans include the installation of multiple beaver dam analogues — structures designed to mimic the form and function of a natural beaver dam — in different reaches of the watershed. These structures are meant to jump-start the growth of woody shrubs and entice beavers to move in and take over.

As Elliot says, “Ultimately, the beaver are probably the ones who will be able to have the might and persistence to kick this watershed out of the rut that it’s currently in.”

Fingers crossed, I hope habitat restoration, coupled with the availability of pure-strain cutthroat trout for stocking, can someday bring trout back to Trout Creek. With a name like Trout Creek, it seems like the right thing to do.

At the same time, some receptivity needs to be built in the minds of those who contributed to the disappearance of cutthroat trout. If there is no shame in being party to the loss of an ancient element of a watershed, it will happen again, and again.

In an indeterminate future, if all the aquatic stars align, someone may take a picture of a group of anglers on Trout Creek, not with a large stringer of native trout, but with smiles indicating their satisfaction with a day of fishing on a stream brought back to life.

Lorne Fitch, P. Biol.

 

Shootin’ the Breeze welcomes submissions about local issues and activities. Personal views expressed in Mailbox articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect views of Shootin’ the Breeze management and staff. 

 

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