Opinion: Return University of Alberta Ring House land to original inhabitants


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The University of Alberta’s four historic circular houses will soon be dismantled and removed from Saskatchewan Drive.

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This includes the home of U of A founder Henry Marshall Tory, the oldest presidential residence on a campus in Canada. On October 1, 2021, the U of A said these homes were “saved” and “preserved” but, in fact, they must be dismantled. The new owner, Primavera Development, plans to rebuild the exteriors at an unknown location and time, along with two east campus houses, to form the nucleus of an arts hub.

However, the heritage value of the houses will be lost forever. There is little hope that this decision will be reversed, as was the case with Rutherford House, which the U of A ordered bulldozed in 1969. The preservation of this house has been aided by the work of the Canadian Federation of University Women and the fact that Prime Minister Peter Lougheed and his wife Jeanne were U of A graduates. There are no U of A graduates in Jason Kenney’s cabinet. .

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The process of erasing these houses began when the University of Alberta quietly let them deteriorate and failed to recognize them as valuable heritage sites like Rutherford House. The historic campus walking tour that featured these houses was removed from the U of A website in 2021, along with the interpretive panels outside Ring House 1.

Along with doctoral research assistant Connor J. Thompson, I requested access to the interiors for research into their history, but we were denied access. The U of A says the houses are not used for teaching and research activities, and when we tried to demonstrate that they were, permission for such activities was denied. It was not until ownership passed to Ken Cantor and Primavera that access was graciously permitted, revealing that the interiors had been neglected for some time.

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The U of A has no immediate plans for green space once the homes are removed. (This has never been explained: why rush to return the land to green space?) I propose that it be returned to the Pâpâsces. It was their land until they were forced to locate their reservation to the south, a reservation they were fraudulently dispossessed of in the late 1880s by a campaign led by Edmonton Bulletin editor Frank Oliver. . That they could choose the site of their reservation, to be theirs in perpetuity, were the solemn promises of Treaty 6. Lead With Purpose, Show We Are Serious About U of A Indigenization and recognition that we are located in Treaty territory 6 .

The last Pâpâsces member known to have lived on this land (River Lot 5) was Mary Foley, a niece of the Chief. She was married to Illinois-born soldier, miner, and freighter John Ashen. Their first child, also named John, was born in 1877 in Tail Creek, the buffalo hunting community. We can glean details about Mary and her family from documents such as Métis records. She and her son John Jr. both received certificates, as did many Pâpasces.

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The family dispersed, along with the rest of the Papasces whom Oliver and other settlers demanded to harm Edmonton’s prosperity. In 1889, Mary and her family moved to the United States. John Jr. served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was killed in action in France in 1918 at the age of 41. In 1930, 74-year-old Mary was living in Sacramento, California, with her attorney’s son Alex J. Ashen and his family, including Mary’s granddaughter Ruth, a crime writer.

Waterfront Lot 5, 258 acres, was purchased in 1882 from John Ashen Sr. for $3,000 by Arthur D. Patton, a young Ontarian who worked on behalf of Kingston investors. In 1885, the land was acquired by Isaac Simpson, a Kingston land broker. The land was purchased in 1907 from Simpson’s widow and daughter for $150,000 (over $4 million today). In 1909 Prime Minister Rutherford boasted that the land was already worth double the amount paid. Imagine how much it’s worth today.

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The land of Ring House, including a fragment of the original land of the Pâpasces, should be returned to them. They should take the lead in deciding the future of this northwest corner of campus. The Ring Houses could form part of an urban land grant to the Papasces, and be incorporated into a new initiative for a national urban park, which may fund a cultural site on the river valley to interpret the history of the Papasces and the many stories woven together in this meaningful place.

This would be an important step towards meaningful reconciliation and reparation for the Papal people. Since the houses were sold for only $4, the land can surely be returned to the Pâpâsces.

Sarah Carter is Professor and Henry Marshall Tory Chair in the Department of History, Classics and Religion and the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta.

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