Friday, June 8, 2012

Robert Rundle at Big Hill Springs, 1841

20111023 big hill springs - 17
Flickr: buzz.bishop [creative commons]
A pleasant stream along a meandering path, and some bulbous tufa rock mounds are the main attractions at Big Hill Springs provincial park, north-west of Calgary, Alberta.  Big Hill Springs was also the site of a pre-historic buffalo jump, which makes sense considering the sharp banks of the valley.  Buffalo still grazed in the area when the first fur-traders and missionaries reached the country. On 12 April 1841, itinerant Methodist missionary, Robert Terrill Rundle, encountered buffalo there when he camped after a frigid "spring" trek across the plains.  As Rundle recorded in his diary,

Ap. 13th- Started for the Black Foot Camp on Bow River.  Launched forth for the 1st time on the Plains.  Weather cold & hard wind.  Dined near the carcass of an old buffalo.  Towards evening reached the Banks of O-mis-ce-nipe or writing gulley.  Saw Indians running buffalo.  Encamped with the Indians.  Sang & prayed before we retired.  Very cold.
A note from published version of The Rundle Journals 1840-1848 (1977) by historian Gerald Hutchinson, suggests the location of "writing gulley" was,
probably near Big Hill Spring Provincial Park, north of Cochrane.  In 1885, J.C. Nelson recorded "Picture Rocks" on a stream at the Big Hill above Calgary, and identified them as omisinah. (Hutchinson and Dempsey, Rundle Journals, p. 63, 327)
Tufa Flickr: trickydevil [creative commons]
Tufa is a limestone sediment created from carbonates drawn from the water itself.  The waters from the springs were useful for Alberta's first commercial dairy, and in the mid-twentieth century were utilized as a fish hatchery.  The site then, has had numerous uses since Rundle visited.  The chances of a visitor spotting a buffalo at today's provincial park, however, are slim indeed!

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