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Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter

Didsbury, Near

Other Names:
"One Man's Castle"
Didsbury Dugout
Stein Dugout
Stone Root Cellar
Sunnyslope Dugout
Underground Shelter
Schech Dugout
Under Ground Shelter: Sunnyslope

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter was built early in the first decade of the twentieth century. The structure consists of a small chamber with sandstone masonry walls and a barrel-vaulted, sandstone masonry ceiling beneath an earthen, grass-covered mound. The only visible portion is the west-facing, arched, sandstone entrance, which projects above grade. The stone archway over the entrance has been reconstructed and the door, hinges and door jambs have been replaced. The dugout shelter is located amidst productive, agricultural land, but is immediately surrounded by natural vegetation. It is situated on a quarter section alongside Township Road 314 in Kneehill County, approximately 24 kilometres west of Three Hills.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter in Kneehill County lies in its identity as a distinctive example of a temporary, vernacular structure common during the earliest stages of settlement on the Prairies.

Dugout shelters were a common form of shelter in the earliest stages of Alberta's settlement. Settlers required some form of shelter from the elements immediately after arriving at their homesteads. They often constructed rudimentary shelters using pre-modern building techniques. In addition to tents, sod huts and simple shacks, dugouts were frequently excavated for use as temporary living quarters. In the region that would become Alberta, dugouts were typically below grade excavations or dug into existing embankments. Roofs were generally made from logs or sod and were usually supported by poles. However, a wide variety of dugout construction techniques existed and stone, while unusual in Alberta, was used occasionally.

It is not known who constructed the Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter; it was likely built by homesteaders who migrated from the American Midwest to the Central Alberta region between 1900 and 1905. One of these homesteaders, George Schech, used the structure as a temporary residence until he completed a frame house on the same quarter-section, after which he used the dugout as a root cellar. Both George Schech and a previous homesteader on the same quarter-section were reputed to have been trained stonemasons, which may explain the unusual choice of sandstone as the main construction material. Both homesteaders came to this region after residing in the American Midwest, where root cellar dugouts were also used as storm shelters. Stone construction was common throughout the Midwest due to the overall lack of trees and the added protection stone offered from tornados and other violent weather experienced by that area. The Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter consists of a single, barrel-vaulted chamber accessed by a staircase. The main chamber, which is covered by an earthen mound, has mortared sandstone walls and ceiling and a hard-packed earth floor. Oriented on an east/west axis, it is approximately 2.25 metres by 4 metres in size and has a ceiling height ranging from 1.7 to 1.8 metres. A small opening is placed in the south facing elevation for light and ventilation. The staircase, which is located at the west side of the main chamber, is constructed of large, flat pieces of sandstone supported by earth and smaller stone chunks. It is covered by a vaulted, sandstone masonry ceiling. Access to the structure is gained through a west facing, arched entryway, which projects above ground.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 312)


Character-Defining Elements
Key elements that define the heritage value of the Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter in Kneehill County include:

- sandstone, masonry construction of its walls, ceiling and entry arch;
- barrel-vaulted roof over the main chamber and staircase;
- packed earth floor of the main chamber;
- open floor plan and volume of the main chamber;
- small opening for light and ventilation in the upper portion of the main chamber's south elevation;
- staircase constructed of large, flat pieces of sandstone supported by earth and small stone chunks;
- arched entryway projecting above grade;
- the earthen mound and natural vegetation growth which covers the structure;
- juxtaposition of the earthen mound and entryway with the flatness of the agricultural
field in which the structure is located.


Location



Street Address:
Community: Didsbury, Near
Boundaries: NW 22-31-26-W4
Contributing Resources: Structures: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
4
4
4
4
26
26
26
26
31
31
31
31
22
22
22
22
11
12
13
14

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
51.671836 -113.615189 Secondary Source NAD83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2011/01/17

Historical Information

Built: 1900 to 1900
Significant Date(s) N/A
Theme(s) Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Architecture and Design
Peopling the Land : Settlement
Historic Function(s): Food Supply : Farm Element
Current Function(s):
Architect:
Builder:
Context: HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

This has no known outstanding historical attributes. The dugout has some regional notoriety; articles about the structure have appeared in the Farm and Ranch Review.

ARCHITECTURAL SIGNIFICANCE

This dugout is important because it is an unusual adaptation of a typical mode of habitation. Dugouts were often reinforced with log beams or constructed partially of sod. This dugout being lined by mortared sandstone is unusual; it may be a unique adaptation of the crude dugout style. It consists of a mortared underground chamber stone stairway, opening in the roof, dirt floor and a wooden door (which may not be original). The entrance has deteriorated.

(Site Information Summary)

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0623
Designation File: DES 0312
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 52106
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 312)
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