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Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter: A Glimpse into Alberta’s Settler Past

Posted on May 21, 2024 by Nerissa McNaughton

The Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter, also known as the Sunnyslope Dugout or Underground Shelter, stands as a distinctive example of vernacular architecture that provided much-needed refuge to homesteaders braving the harsh conditions of the Prairies in the early 20th century.

Constructed in the first decade of the 1900s, the Sunnyslope Shelter is an example of the temporary living quarters that were essential for early settlers. Unlike the more commonly used sod huts or simple shacks, this shelter is made from sandstone masonry for its walls and a barrel-vaulted ceiling, a construction method that was unusual for Alberta and offered significant advantages in terms of durability and protection against the elements.

The identity of the shelter's original builder remains unknown, but it is believed to have been constructed by homesteaders who migrated from the American Midwest to Central Alberta between 1900 and 1905. The choice of sandstone as a building material may reflect the skills of these early settlers, some of whom were trained stonemasons, and their adaptation to the local environment which lacked an abundance of trees.

Located approximately 24 kilometres west of Three Hills, the Sunnyslope Shelter offers visitors a unique glimpse into the life of early Prairie settlers. The structure, largely hidden beneath an earthen mound and accessible through a west-facing, arched sandstone entrance, features a single chamber with mortared sandstone walls and ceiling. The shelter's design, including a small opening for light and ventilation and a staircase constructed from large stone slabs, showcases the practical yet innovative approaches to building in challenging conditions.

For history enthusiasts and curious travellers alike, the Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter presents a fascinating destination. Its status as a Provincial Historic Resource underlines its importance in Alberta's heritage conservation efforts. Visitors can explore the shelter and its surroundings, gaining insights into the challenges and triumphs of the homesteaders who shaped the region's history.

While the site does not boast the amenities of more commercial tourist attractions, its allure lies in its authenticity and the opportunity it provides to connect with the past in a tangible way. Whether you're interested in architecture, history, or simply looking for a unique day trip in Alberta, the Sunnyslope Shelter is well worth a visit.

The conservation of sites like the Sunnyslope Sandstone Shelter is crucial for understanding the diverse narratives that compose Canada's rich historical tapestry. By visiting and supporting heritage sites, we contribute to the preservation of these stories for future generations to discover and appreciate.

As you stand before the arched entrance of the Sunnyslope Shelter, take a moment to reflect on the resilience of those who, over a century ago, sought to make a home in the vast landscapes of Alberta. Their legacy, carved in sandstone and sheltered beneath the prairie skies, continues to inspire and educate us today.

Nerissa McNaughton is a freelance writer and a contributor to Great West Media. This story was written for the Great West Media & Southern Alberta Newspapers Hot Summer Guide advertising feature. The Hot Summer Guide is a special feature about summer activities, bucket list adventures, staycation options, road trips, attractions, events, and road trip-worthy food & beverage destinations across Alberta. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.

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