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Mystery building found

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Nov 03/06) - The discovery of a number of logs emerging from the bank of the Mackenzie River is creating a source of speculation in Fort Simpson.

The four parallel logs found in the bank on the east side of Mackenzie Drive across from Andy Whittington's hotel were brought to the attention of the Liidlii Kue First Nation.

Chief Keyna Norwegian contacted the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife to examine the find.

The logs, which can only be seen by looking up from the bottom of the bank, appear to be part of a structure, said Glen MacKay, the assessment archeologist for the centre.

MacKay examined the structure on Oct. 25.

He thinks the logs are part of the wall of a historic cabin. The logs are located approximately one meter down from the top of the bank and three to five meters above the river.

MacKay came to look at the site because of its location. The logs may have been exposed during last year's river break-up and could be pushed away during the next break-up, he said.The history and story behind the structure is still a mystery.

There are contradicting clues about the building's age.

If the logs are part of a wall it means the base of the structure is buried in up to two meters of river silt suggesting the building is quite old, MacKay said. But the logs don't appear to be as deteriorated or rotten as you'd expect in a very old structure, he said.

The age of the building will be difficult to determine, said MacKay.

Radio carbon dating is only effective for items over 500 years old.

The best way to date the building would be associated artifacts like nails or cans. Because of the snow cover nothing could be found along the bank, he said.

Some elders in Fort Simpson believe they have the answer to the structure's purpose. It might be a grave site.

When the small pox epidemic hit the island in 1862, before the Spanish Flu epidemic in the 1920s, the number of dead made it necessary for alternative burial methods to be used.

Little log cabins were built along the river to store multiple bodies, said Chief Keyna Norwegian relating the elders' knowledge.

"If it turns out to be a grave site the band will try to protect it, Norwegian said.

For now MacKay can only document the site with photos and global positioning readings.

The logs are high on an unstable bank they and are hard to access. Digging down to the logs would only make the bank more unstable, he said.

In the spring staff from the heritage centre might come again to see if more of the structure has been exposed.

"We would like to monitor its situation," MacKay said.

Anyone else with information or memories about buildings previously located on the east side of Mackenzie Drive is being asked to come forward.