The Ewan Moberly Homestead in Jasper National Park
By guest blogger and HI employee Liz Ferguson
On July 22nd, under a clear blue sky, I stood beside what remains of the Ewan Moberly Homestead, located in the Jasper National Park about 15 kilometres northeast of the town site (take the Palisades Centre exit and turn right towards Snaring Campground). Looking north across an open meadow, I could easily image the children of the Ewan and Madeline (nee Findlay) Moberly playing in the fields and sense the enterprise of a family building a life in this idyllic setting through the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries.
The Moberly’s lived in the area now defined as the Jasper National Park from the early 1800s until the early 1900’s. The departure of the extended family and others was as a consequence of a declaration signed by the federal government of the day that created the Jasper Forest Park of Canada.
I came to the site that morning knowing only that Ewan was one of two sons born of Henry John and Suzanne Moberly and that Henry John was of British heritage. I found out later that Suzanne was the daughter of Louis Karakonti Iroquois and Marie Katis Sekanni. Louis had been what was known as a freeman after leaving the North West Company. I knew also, on that morning, that Ewan’s brother, John had a homestead further up the river and that there were still other such sites in the area. That morning, however, we were going to explore and learn about the Ewan Moberly family homestead.
On the site, there are a couple of interpretive panels installed in the area and on a pathway to the grave site of Suzanne Kwarakwante. These panels will give you some basic background on the family and their significance to the area but if you leave it at that, you’d be missing out on a much richer perspective of the family and it’s connections to the land in the Jasper National Park.
Lucky for me, Hostelling International and the Friends of Jasper National Park had organized a tour of the site to be led by Ron Pelletier, along with his mother, Ida Pelletier. Ron is a direct descent of the Moberly family and an historian. John Moberly, brother of Ewan, was Ida’s grandfather. It was a rare and privileged opportunity to hear the history and personal stories of this family directly from the ancestors of those who’d lived it.
There was a collection of about ten of us participating in the tour. Once we assembled, Ron began to introduce us to the history of his family on the land now contained within the Jasper National Park, their way of life, and the impacts of relationships with government policies and officials.
Early in the presentation, it was clear that we were in for a unique insight into history and current events. Ron’s description of his family and ancestors does not include the moniker of Métis, this in spite of its use on the interpretive panels. This term, he explained, was and is used by government to refer to a wide range of indigenous peoples that include European and French in their bloodline. Ron clarified for us that his family identifies with the Iroquois (one of the well know First Nations connected to lands in Ontario and the northeastern USA) and Sekani (a First Nation in British Columbia), and that the white blood in the family is British.
And the content of Ron’s presentation continued to be as informative and candid as it began.
At this time, the only structures that remain are a roofed house, that can’t have been more than 500 square feet, and a smaller structure immediately beside it. Ron told us the smaller of the two had been a store. It would have been from this location that people travelling into and over the mountains would have had their last opportunity to purchase supplies. We learned also that the house was larger than most others and that is had been built so to allow for a loft area necessary to house Ewan and Madeline’s 10 children.
A view of the existing buildings on the Ewan Moberly Homestead.
If you look closely, you can see in the photo that the construction of the buildings uses an angled interlock method referred to as “dove tailing” to lock the ends of the logs together to form the corners. Ron told us that this technique was common in such structures during the time of the fur trade. You can also see, by the different weathering of the logs of the larger building, where new ones have been added along with a roof. These are recent restoration additions that were put in place by a crew that included Moberly family members, employing that same “dove tailing” technique used by their ancestors. This is the beginning of Ron’s vision to have the site restored to reflect its appearance when it was the working homestead of his great-great Uncle Ewan.
This he hopes to achieve in partnership with the Parks Canada Agency. A three year plan is currently being considered by Parks.
With Ron’s help, we saw where various other structures had existed including the 100’ x 30’ barn that would have stood some fifty feet from the house, the root cellar, the probable location of another house just northwest of the main house and the ancient trail that would have brought traders and travellers to the store that Ewan kept stocked for that purpose. To keep this store stocked, by the way, the Moberlys made an annual trip to Lac Ste. Anne and from there to Edmonton for supplies. This round trip journey would take them a month.
Our tour then moved away from the buildings down a pathway stopping at the sites for two interpretive signs. Ron continued to share information from his research into his family’s history, peppering the information with personal recollections of stories told by his parents and grandparents. As we walked, we learned more about how the Moberlys’ made their living on the land through farming, outfitting, operating the stores, guiding and raising horses. He also shared insights into the relationships within his extended family and other First Nations groups whose ancestors also came to the territory.
We also learned that in 1907, after the declaration creating the National Park was signed, a representative of the federal government was sent to negotiate a settlement that would remove the homesteaders that resided there, the Moberlys among them. Ron’s research into this part of the family history is extensive and illuminates unequal treatment. That story is best told by Ron, rather than in a few summary sentences here. Follow this link to the Upper-Athabasca-Valley-Elders-Council’s facebook page.
At the tour’s conclusion, Ron and Ida pointed to some of the plants that grow naturally in the area and explained their healing properties. They shared one or two stories about how their family had used these plants in the past and still do, on occasion, in place of modern medicines, emphasizing that conservation of the natural growth has always been critical to ensuring they were available when needed.
Ron’s knowledge and passion for this subject are both obvious in every aspect of the tour. Beyond the depth of his research into the history of his family, the experience is enriched with hearing the recollections passed down through generations of the Moberly family members. It was an inspiring stroll through just one part of that history. I’m looking forward to learning more.
Hostelling International and Friends of Jasper National Park hope to work with Ron again next year and beyond to continue to introduce our guests and visitors to the Jasper National Park to this vibrant part of the territory’s history. Stay connected to www.backpackerbuzz.ca for details for the program in 2013.
Ron Pelletier elaborating on some of the content displayed on the interpretive panel at the Ewan Moberly Homestead site. The meadow, formerly one of the fields cleared and worked by the Moberlys, in the background.
If you’re interested in learning more, Ron would welcome your questions. You can reach him at Ron.Pelletier@unbc.ca