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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Sheck Dugout Near Didsbury

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Sometimes starting a new life on the prairies meant going underground... literally! And the Sheck dugout near Didsbury is a testament to that early custom.

Historian Dorothy Field explains:

It's not really that unusual for an underground dwelling to be constructed. Ukrainian settlers, for instance, quite often built semi-subterranean homes out of logs and sod for the first winter on their land.

But this one is quite unusual in that it's completely subterranean and it's built out of stone.

The Sheck dugout is a pit dwelling that dates back to the turn of the century.

It was built some time between 1904 and 1907 - there doesn't seem to be quite enough information to decide exactly when - either by a Mr. Sheck or a Mr. Stein... can't seem to agree on that, either.

What people do seem to agree upon is that the dugout was constructed to be the original dwelling place on the Sheck homestead.

The only thing you can see from above ground is the entrance, which is a sandstone-arched doorway, with a sort of a semi-dome behind it. And it looks like some odd little shed.

But actually, when you open the door, there's a number of steps, and you go down a fair distance, into a 10 by 12-foot vaulted, sandstone room.

Originally, it was to be a dwelling place, so there was sufficient ventilation, in the form of a smoke hole in the roof going up through the stone and the sod that was above it. So it would have been possible for them to have a stove down there.

It's not known how long the family lived underground in the dugout, and wood-frame buildings that were built above ground on the homestead are long-gone.

But, once the family did move into a house above ground, the Sheck dugout was use a storm shelter and very fancy root cellar.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.