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Tag: Waterton Lakes National Park

Rear view of a woman setting up a digital scanner in Kootenai Brown's cabin at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek.

University of Calgary works to digitally preserve Kootenai Brown Cabin

Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village has always been a haven for those interested in pioneer history. Now, thanks to the University of Calgary’s Alberta Digital Heritage Archive project, part of that history can be digested in a whole new way.

In late July, two members of the project team, Christina Robinson and Madisen Hvidberg, came to Pincher Creek to scan and digitally preserve Kootenai Brown Cabin, one of the many pioneer buildings at the museum.

“We’re always gung-ho about any partnerships, especially one that does relate to one of our buildings, and of course, it being so primary to the history of the site itself and the history of the museum,” says Gord Tolton, education co-ordinator at KBPV.

“Cabins, as much as you try to preserve them, do present challenges, and you never just know when something bad is going to happen,” Gord says.

“God forbid, if something happened to the cabin, at least there will always be this preserved digital record of the cabin itself.”

Relocated to the museum from Waterton Lakes National Park in 1971, the cabin was John George (Kootenai) Brown’s second homestead and features many original furnishings. Brown settled in the Waterton Lakes area in 1877 and was heavily responsible for the establishment and conservation of Waterton Lakes National Park.

Using a terrestrial 3D laser scanner, Christina and Madisen collected data through laser range finding. In this process, millions of laser light points are emitted while the scanner rotates, reflecting off objects and back to the scanner, and that location is recorded in 3D space.

“One of the many advantages of laser scanning for heritage preservation is the speed at which data can be captured. Depending on the level of resolution required, scans can take anywhere from four to eight minutes to complete,” Madisen says.

“For the Kootenai Brown Cabin documentation, Chris and I captured the interior and exterior using 16 scanning locations. This in-field documentation took approximately three hours.”

 

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The project team reached out to the fine folks at KBPV to document the cabin, as it related to a site the team had previously captured digitally.

That site was the cabin’s original location in Waterton, which was discovered by Edwin Knox, a former Parks Canada warden and cultural heritage manager.

Edwin first sought the original location in 2016 to mark the centennial of Kootenai Brown’s passing. Through speaking with locals, as well as using archival records and photos, Edwin was able to identify the location, confirmed by photos and remnants of the original foundation.

The team was asked to digitally capture the site in May 2022, and following their work, decided to digitally preserve the cabin at KBPV as well. In addition to preserving the cabin, they blended the two digital datasets to reconnect the cabin to its original surroundings.

“Cultural heritage really belongs to everyone, and Alberta’s built heritage and heritage landscapes are important representations of this province’s story, people and identities. As such we really believe that everyone should be able to easily view and learn about these places,” Madisen says.

“Digital heritage is easily shared online, which allows anyone in Alberta or the world access to our heritage resources, and the values and stories they represent.”

Following Christina and Madisen’s work at KBPV, the pair registered the scans at their lab at the university using laser control software, then exported to AutoDesk ReCap for data cleaning and export. After documentation, it took two full workdays for the team to process the data, before spending an additional day constructing the web page for the cabin.

Christina and Madisen extend thanks to the folks at KBPV for their assistance, especially Gord Tolton, who provided in-house information and images to help the project.

Those interested in checking out the original data collected by the U of C team can view and download it.

 

Rear view of a woman setting up a digital scanner in Kootenai Brown's cabin at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek.

 

 

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Waterton lakeshore with mountains in background

Brooks man drowns at Waterton Lakes National Park

A 37-year-old man from Brooks has died following a drowning incident on the upper portion of Waterton Lakes.

Indications from the scene are the man was swimming with family Tuesday afternoon when he ran into trouble.

“Police attended and found multiple people performing CPR on an unconscious male,” says Sgt. Ryan Hodge of the Pincher Creek RCMP.

“Unfortunately, the man was pronounced deceased at the scene.”

Hodge says one of those to perform CPR was a medical doctor. Police and EMS from Pincher Creek were called out just after 4 p.m.

“From what we can tell, the person wasn’t a strong swimmer and they got into water they weren’t comfortable in. Whether it was a panic situation, we’re not sure,” he adds.

The lake, though, is known for strong undercurrents.

As temperatures climb to the upper 30s this week, many will head to nearby rivers and lakes to stay cool. RCMP recommends we practise water safety whether swimming or boating.

“Respect the water. If you’re not a strong swimmer stay in a depth of water you’re comfortable in … that you can stand up in,” suggests Hodge.

“It is also a cold lake so it can steal a lot of strength from you.”

brown haired man with moustache and goatee speaks into a microphone

Pincher Creek RCMP look to summer staffing in Waterton

Speaking to town council March 27, Hodge assured Mayor Don Anderberg that he’d notify town hall if the detachment anticipated a staffing crunch. 

“If officers don’t come in from out-of-area, the [Pincher Creek] detachment would have to fill in,” Hodge said, qualifying that it was too soon to tell. 

The detachment typically aims to post two Mounties in Waterton Park at all times throughout the summer. Six Mounties were cycled through in pairs last summer, with the detachment occasionally filling in.

“There were definitely periods where we had to supplement [coverage in Waterton] with our own officers, but that was kept to a very minimum level,” Hodge told council. 

It’s not hard to attract Mounties who are willing to spend a summer in the park. The challenge, Hodge explained, is freeing up Mounties from their home detachments. 

 

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

“Provincewide, we’re finding that resource levels are low and it’s tough to get officers released so that they can come down and work for us.”

Mounties from Fort Vermilion and High Prairie have already expressed interest in policing Waterton this summer, according to Hodge. At the same time, the detachment commander said he was in talks with Cardston RCMP about potentially pooling resources. 

In the meantime, Hodge said, the detachment was “definitely feeling an impact” in the absence of the town’s former peace officers. 

Mounties are being called to respond to complaints about dogs, many of which fall outside the scope of police work.

“We’ll always respond to dog attacks, but we don’t deal with stray dogs or complaints about dogs chasing deer through town. Our officers don’t have the training or the time for that,” Hodge advised council. 

“We’re in the process of filling positions for two bylaw officers,” Mayor Anderberg replied. “We don’t have anyone in place right now, but that’s in the works.”

Man in cowboy hat stands among green trees

Dream to conserve the Yarrow comes to fruition

If you’ve ever taken a trip to Waterton Lakes National Park, you have likely been impacted by the sheer beauty of the Twin Butte area. On Oct. 25, the Nature Conservancy of Canada announced a new campaign to protect Yarrow Creek Ranch — a dream come true for the late Charlie Fischer.

The 1,650-hectare landscape features several exceptional habitats, including grasslands, wetlands, creeks and mixed forests.

Through the campaign, NCC is looking to raise $6.9 million to conserve the property while ensuring the natural rangeland stays intact, maintaining a sustainable and working landscape for the property owners, the Fischer-Cuthbertson family, and local ranchers to continue raising cattle and other livestock on.

Landscape view with autumn forest, river, sky and mountains.
With the property’s wide range of habitats and southern location, the Yarrow supports one of the highest numbers of species recorded at a potential NCC conservation property in Alberta. Photo by Brent Calver

During a study in 2020, 110 wildlife species were documented on the property. Of these species, over two dozen are considered sensitive or at-risk, including bobolink, barn and bank swallows, sharp-tailed grouse, great blue herons, trumpeter swans and grizzly bears.

Additionally, six of Alberta’s nine bat species have been spotted at the Yarrow. Of particular significance are the little brown bat, northern myotis, eastern red bat and silver-haired bat.

Four amphibian species of note have also been documented: the Canadian toad, tiger salamander, boreal toad and Columbia spotted frog.

Rare or uncommon plant species found at the Yarrow include the Mariposa lily, blue camas, Hooker’s Townsend daisy, lance-leaved paintbrush, striped coralroot and spotted coralroot.

NCC says the Yarrow’s importance stretches beyond providing pristine wildlife habitat, as its many wetlands hold vast amounts of water that help reduce the severity of drought and buffer the impact of flooding in the area.

Drywood Creek and Yarrow Creek are two important streams that flow through the property, transporting water from Alberta’s southern headwaters to the Waterton Reservoir, thereby supporting the people and economy of southwestern Alberta.

The Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association, which works to support landowners in conservation and stewardship of biodiversity, is happy that the Fischer-Cuthbertson family decided to take steps to conserve the property through NCC.

“It’s an amazing property! We would like to see long-term conservation,” says Nora Manners, executive director of the WBRA. “It keeps the land part of the local economy.”

Members of the association have been on the Yarrow several times in order to conduct species-at-risk work and have seen the beauty of the area first hand.

For Tom Lynch-Staunton, who grew up just north of Lundbreck and is now NCC’s regional vice-president for Alberta, the area holds a personal connection.

“I find it personally special because I grew up down there. Our playground, a lot of the time, was in the Waterton park front,” he says.

“It feels personally special to be able to ensure that it’s going to remain the way it is and conserve for generations.”

As for the Fischer-Cuthbertson family, they stated in a press release that it is meaningful to see the ranch conserved by NCC, especially considering their “Grandpa Charlie” always saw the beauty in the area and wished to conserve it.

Charlie purchased the land when he retired and was keen to practise sustainable grazing while ensuring the ranch was managed thoughtfully in order for nature to thrive.

“We look forward to revisiting the breathtaking views, magnificent wildlife and the winding creek with the grandchildren, sharing memories of their Grandpa Charlie and tales of the adventures we enjoyed here together,” says the family.

“It’s a story that continues through the generations,” Nora adds.

If Charlie were here today, he’d surely be proud of his family’s commitment to conserving Yarrow Creek Ranch.

Should you wish to support conservation of the Yarrow, find out how you can help by visiting www.theyarrow.ca.

Bison roam at Waterton Park

Bison relocated to Waterton and Kainai Nation

After a 3½-year absence, plains bison have returned to roam Waterton Lakes National Park. Six bison — two males and four females — were relocated from Elk Island National Park to Waterton’s popular bison paddock on Feb. 19.

The original herd was evacuated from the paddock during the 2017 Kenow wildfire and relocated to Grasslands National Park, with the exception of one bull that survived the fire and was subsequently moved to a local First Nations herd.

The six bison currently in the park are just under one year old and will be able to naturally reproduce.

“Typically it takes a few years for them to start reproducing, so in a couple of springs from now we should expect to see baby bison calves on the ground and in the bison paddock, and that’s something to look forward to for sure,” says Kimberly Pearson, an ecosystem scientist with Parks Canada.

 

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Many people have asked why it took so long to bring bison back to the park. Quite simply, it comes down to the impact the wildfire had on the vegetation and soil. It wasn’t until quite recently that it was determined the land could once again support a herd.

Kimberly and her team have been monitoring the range and assessing what amounts of forage are available for bison.

“When you look at the bison paddock, there’s a lot of vegetation present, but when you look closely there’s actually still a lot of bare soil if you part the plants,” she says. “It’s not fully back to what it was prior to the fire, but it’s a great time to add bison into the mix.”

Kimberly says the massive creatures are “ecosystem engineers” that have an incredibly positive ecological impact, extending to virtually all of the plants and animals in the areas where they live.

 

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Two weeks ago, Kimberly was present for the release of the bison into the winter paddock.

“It was fantastic! It was a great day, a really happy day,” she says. “It was really great to see them back on the ground in Waterton. We’ve missed them being on the ground there for the last 3½ years.”

Also present for the release were a group of local First Nations members, who performed a ceremony prior to the arrival of the bison and blessed the animals and the land. Waterton worked closely with Dan Fox, a Kainai Nation member who was chosen to transport the six bison from Elk Island National Park to Waterton.

“We know that by bringing bison back, we’re not just rebuilding ecological connections, but we’re also helping to rebuild cultural connections [and] spiritual connections for local indigenous people, so it was really important to us to have some Blackfoot elders present,” says Kimberly.

The public will be able to see the bison come springtime, when the herd will be moved to the summer paddock.

 

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Also noteworthy is the relocation of 40 plains bison from Elk Island National Park to Kainai Nation. According to Leroy Little Bear, special advisor to the president at the University of Lethbridge, the process went very smoothly.

“It was a wonderful scene to see those buffalo get off the trailer and run into the pens that we had set up for them, and to see them on the ground,” he says. “We’ve been talking about hoof to ground for the last few years, so to realize that was fantastic!”

Right now, these bison are part of what is referred to as a “slow release,” which means the pasture will slowly be enlarged over time. Eventually, the herd will have about 2½ sections of land to roam.

Mr. Little Bear likens the keystone species to Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid.

“He’s the superstar, and the team is built around the superstar,” he says. “The bison is kind of like the superstar when it comes to the environment. It brings about an ecological and biodiversity balance.”

He adds that while culturally his people used bison as sustenance, it wasn’t the only thing.

“We embodied each other. It was about our songs, for instance, our stories. Our ceremonies are so connected to that buffalo,” he says, and seeing bison reinforces the cultural aspect.

 

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Speaking with Kainai elders, Mr. Little Bear was told that the youth hear the songs and stories, and participate in the ceremonies, but they don’t see the bison. By not seeing the animals, it was like there was something missing. Now, however, it looks like that will be changing.

Mr. Little Bear says Kainai Nation is open to taking in more bison from other places in an effort to expand the genetic pool. The current herd will be used for cultural and research purposes. Many educational programs revolving around the bison will also be introduced.

“It’s been such a wonderful experience, such a wonderful gift, to have our brother, the buffalo, come back,” says Mr. Little Bear. “It was a team effort with many, many people involved. I want to thank all those people that are involved.”

His list of those to thank includes Parks Canada, Waterton Lakes National Park, Elk Island National Park, Banff National Park and the various non-governmental organizations that worked together with Kainai to make the dreams of bison returning to the community come true.