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1. Introduction

2. The Distant Past

3. First Nations

4. The Fur Trade

5. European Settlement

6. Notable People

7. Railway Era

8. Resources

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Sourisford: The Distant Past

The convenient river crossing than came to be called Sourisford is near the crossroads of ancient trading routes used by First Nations groups. One, which passed from the Turtle Mountain westward, was adapted by the Boundary Commission, the other, the Yellowquill Trail, angled southwest from the Portage La Prairie area.



 

 

The general vicinity was a natural place for both lasting villages and temporary campsites.

Two archeologically significant national historic sites are located in the immediate vicinity. Those sites each feature Interpretive Signs.

Sourisford Linear Burial Mounds

The mounds at this site are remnants of the largest concentration of ancient burial mounds in Canada. Archeologists believe that the casualties of the harsh winter were ceremoniously buried when the ground thawed – an event of cooperative behavior and cultural importance. Artifacts found in the mounds have included stone tablets, clay mortuary vessels, and shell gorget masks made from Gulf Coast conch shells.

The people who left the Sourisford Liner Mounds are known only as the Mound Builders. They are thought to be related through common ancestry to—or influenced by contact with—the Mississippian peoples who lived along the mid and lower reaches of the Mississippi River. The idea of burial mounds spread from these Mississippian people, who in turn drew their influences from Central American civilizations even farther south.

The Mound Builders were a nomadic bison hunting society who moved ab
out according to a seasonal cycle, summering on the plains. The burial mounds at Sourisford date back to 800 AD, over 1,000 years ago.

The Brockinton Site

Brockinton National Historic Site of Canada is a multi-component, stratified archaeological site located on the east bank of the Souris River a few kilometres north of the Sourisford Crossing. Located on a steep slope between the flood plain and the prairie the site consists of a thin crescent-shaped strip of low-lying land that has yielded evidence of three distinct periods of occupation, dating from 800 to 1650 A.D
During its earliest occupation around 800 AD, the site was used as a bison kill and butchering site by an unknown Plains group. They used contours of the landscape to drive bison down the valley to the riverbank where they built a structure known as a pound. The pound consisted of a collection of posts driven into the ground in a row among the trees growing on the bank. The structure was about 1.5 metres thick and held together using horizontal branches and saplings intertwined among the posts and trees. Gaps in the structure were covered with hides. Bison would then be herded down the steep valley of the Souris River to run tripping and tumbling into the structure. This proved to be an efficient method of killing bison with a minimum of bone breakage. The site has yielded a fantastic number of small side-notched arrows, ranging from 10 to 45 pounds of material per square meter.

 

The pound at Brockinton was a rare find, not so much because of its use, but rather what was done with it after it had served its purpose. Though evidence suggests that the site was hurriedly abandoned, extreme care was taken in leaving the landscape as it had been. After its use the pound was dismantled to the point that the holes left by the posts were filled in with vertically placed bison bones. The site is one of the first and certainly the best-documented cases of such a rare occurrence.

 

Bison bones in the Souris River's bank at the Brockinton Site – readily found in 2014

 
Going back in time, the Duck Bay Culture, a regional variant of the Blackduck complex found in northern Ontario, used the site for camping sometime between 1100 and 1350 AD. They adapted to the seasonal bison hunting of plains people and adopted a number of traits found in plains cultures, such as the use of Knife River flint, which came from western North Dakota and was used for tool-making. Another adopted trait was the use of a flat milling stone with which they ground up seeds. Artifacts found at the site from this era include: shards of large woodland pottery (distinguished by cord wrapped impressions and shallow stamps), endscrapers, bifaces and three mini stone awls. The site produced projectile points with broken bases that had been abandoned when arrows had been repaired with new points and a channeled sandstone abrader for smoothing wooden shafts, a rarity in Manitoba. The animal remains discovered at the site reflect a mixed economy fed by bison, canines, beaver, deer and fish.

Most recently, an indigenous group known as the Williams culture used the location as a camping site, which dates back just over 400 years ago (1600 AD). This was a group of plains First Nations who were primarily dependent upon the bison. They produced uniquely decorated pottery pieces: small bowls with twisted cord impressions in triangular and horizontal patterns and tiny stamps created using materials such as reeds, bird feathers, quills or tiny bird bones. Some of the pottery pieces have a more broad decoration with smoother surfaces. These pottery fragments suggest a tie to the Oneota culture in southern Minnesota or Iowa. The Oneota included several groups that occupied the area of these states between 1000 and 1650 AD. Significantly, the Brockinton site was the first excavated evidence of the Williams culture.



 


A Bison Pound

This tradition is not usually found on the plains, but rather has a widespread distribution in the wooded portion of south-eastern Manitoba. This appears to be the only occurrence of these peoples in Canada, who are represented by a uniquely decorated, rich and varied ceramic assemblage.

The relationship between the site and the neighbouring Linear Mounds National Historic Site of Canada is also of interest. All these things give us a more complete picture of the First Nations associated with the site.


It was designated a Canadian National Historic site in 1973 because it confirms that dynamic cultural changes that occurred in this region before contact with Europeans.

Snyder II Site

It is a common perception that most plains Aboriginal peoples were nomadic wanderers who were largely dependent on what has been described as the “mobile supermarkets of the vast herds of migratory bison.” Though this was true of some First Nations, the Snyder II site south of Melita suggests that agricultural activities in southwest Manitoba did not begin with European settlers.

The site is on the bank of the Gainsborough Creek just half a kilometer west of its junction with the Souris River. In 1970, and again in 2006, Archaeologist Leigh Syms made an excavation of the site, which produced direct evidence of pre-contact native agricultural activities.

 
A replica of a shell mask/gorget found at the Snyder II Site.

Syms excavated a bell-shaped storage pit at the site, which measured over a metre deep. The lower portion of the pit revealed two distinct hearths with concentrations of fire ash, artifacts, evidence of a sweat lodge, and bison scapulae (shoulder blades). The bison scapulae were a particularly significant find in an agricultural sense because of their use as hoeing implements—evidence that the soil was being worked in the immediate area.

The storage pit itself was used to store surplus produce, an indication of a semi-sedentary occupation. The people who worked the land here would either have lived in a permanent village or were around for enough of the year to maintain crops and live off of the storages they made in pits such as this one.

Evidence of a village occupation is scattered over many acres of the neighbouring cultivated field. This field, among others, exhibits depressions on its surface, which Syms speculates is indicative of at least seven other pits. The activities of modern agriculture have wiped out evidence of how many other storage pits there might have been, in addition to whatever gardens or fields might have been worked by the village residents (these fields were probably located on the nearby floodplain below the storage pits).
Syms concluded that the Snyder II site was used as a village during the protocontact period: that is, during the time when local Aboriginal groups were receiving some European items through trade but before Europeans set up trading posts in the area. The site dates very loosely to 1610 AD.

The pit also revealed pottery shards from several Late Plains Woodland vessels—artifacts that have not been found before on the Canadian plains. These artifacts were dated to about 340 years ago