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No. 388: Peace for a Thousand Miles: Part Four

A Cree trade captain by the name of Swan secured a truce between Cree and Beaver nations in 1719, at a place now know as Peace Point on the Peace River.

He did so at the request of Captain James Knight of the Hudson's Bay Company, and this was to facilitate trade with natives living in the remote regions west of York Factory on Hudson Bay.

But Swan did more than achieve peace. He discovered something black and tarry. As historian Jack Ives points out, this was noted in the journal of Henry Kelsey, successor to Captain Knight at York Factory.

Swan does speak to us through the journal of Henry Kelsey, in 1719, in June when he comes in with other trading parties. And the passage I have in mind reads:

"The Indian named Swan, the Peacemaker, was in this gang, and says he wintered with those Indians beyond Churchill at the rivers whose streams run to the westwards. He brought a sample of that gum or pitch that flows out of the banks of that river."

And this, again, is the sample of tar sand.

Because the West was uncharted and unexplored by Europeans at the time, the geographical location of most historical events is usually vague. While little else is known of Swan's life, his legacy is the story of Peace Point.

Well, thereafter there was an alleviation of tensions in this area, and perhaps the most intriguing part of it is there's an archaeological connection for this peace, beginning in terms of European records with Alexander Mackenzie's journals and from there on, there's a strong oral tradition in the region that the peace was created at the spot known as Peace Point in Wood Buffalo National Park.

And in fact, in the 1980s, archaeological excavations there, conducted by Parks Canada, revealed that there is a magnificent archaeological site at Peace Point. It's about 2,200 years of age. It's been created by repeated flooding of the Peace River, in a nice layer cake sequence of archaeological occupations.

And so it's clear that for more than two millennia, major seasonal gatherings of First Nations people in the region took place. And it makes every bit of sense, then, that this would be the location that Swan would have visited to create a peace, likely with Beaver Indians living in that area.

But even with the Great Peace for a thousand miles around, the West remained a remote and unexplored territory. It was several decades before the La Verandyes and Peter Pond found their way to northern Alberta.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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