Prairie Creek Mine Winter Access Road

Gabriella Prager (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2009‐023)

In September, 2009, on behalf of Canadian Zinc Corporation and at the request of the Nahanni Butte Dene Band, a team led by archaeologist Gabriella Prager of Points West Heritage Consulting Ltd. completed an archaeological assessment of selected portions of a proposed winter road between Nahanni Butte and the Prairie Creek mine. The project area is in the South Mackenzie Mountains approximately 150 km west of Fort Simpson and almost 1500 km northeast of Vancouver. The project area extends into the southeastern portion of the expanded Nahanni National Park Reserve. The proposed road will essentially follow a cut line that had been prepared in 1980 by the then owner of the mine.

There were three sections of possible heritage concern that had been identified during a Nahanni Butte Dene traditional knowledge study:

  • The easternmost feature of interest is a pass known as Second or Grainger Gap.
  • The next pass of concern to the west is called Wolverine or Silent Hills Pass.
  • The westernmost area of the three identified is the crossing of the Tetcela River and is situated within the newly expanded Nahanni National Park Reserve. Consequently, a Parks permit was obtained to complete that assessment.

The initial step of the study was for the archaeologist to meet with Band members who were knowledgeable about the past uses of these particular areas. The members who were available confirmed the importance of Second Gap as a use area for Nahanni Butte people for a considerable length of time. However, they had no specific knowledge of the use of either Wolverine Pass or the Tetcela River. The latter was identified as a possible north‐south travel route. The field team comprised Wilbert Antoine from Fort Simpson and Leon Konisenta,

Raymond Vital and Tom Betsaka, all from Nahanni Butte. No previously recorded archaeological sites were found to occur within or in close proximity to the proposed road corridor.

Following the interviews, we proceeded to overfly the areas of interest as well as the sections of the route between. The cutline was still readily visible in most areas; therefore, the route was easily followed. Ground reconnaissance was completed of the entire length of the Second Gap pass and both banks of the main Tetcela River crossing. A brief stop was made at the second Tetcela crossing for visual assessment. The Wolverine Pass area was very carefully visually assessed from the helicopter by repeated low and slow passes and circles. Due to the lack of information on the specific concerns in Wolverine Pass, and the fact that the terrain was not suggestive of good potential in the immediate vicinity of the cut line, ground reconnaissance was not judged necessary. Shovel testing was conducted on both sides of the river crossing as well as along a well defined terrace in Second Gap, in the vicinity of some camp remains. All shovel tests were negative and visual surface inspection revealed no archaeological remains. The camp contained remains of a tent frame, some cut brush, a pail, and a circle of rocks likely representing a hearth. The site probably dates no earlier than the cut line, that is, the 1980s. Therefore, it was not recorded as an archaeological site. No other cultural remains were observed during this investigation.

(Edited by Shelley Crouch, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre)