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Alberta Parks investigating alleged vandalism of wall pictographs

An investigation into an alleged vandalizing of Indigenous wall pictographs at Grotto Canyon is being looked into by Alberta Environment and Parks.

KANANASKIS COUNTRY – An investigation into an alleged vandalizing of Indigenous wall pictographs at Grotto Canyon is being looked into by Alberta Environment and Parks.

The provincial ministry confirmed it’s investigating the alleged incident after it became clear the pictographs – just to the west of Exshaw – had been recently scratched and damaged.

“Conservation officers from the Bow Valley District are currently investigating a reported act of vandalism at Grotto Canyon in Kananaskis Country,” said Bridget Burgess, a communications officer with Alberta Environment and Parks.

Burgess said in an email they have no additional information at this time and the RCMP is not involved in the investigation.

The alleged incident gained significant attention when it was posted on social media sites such as Reddit, Facebook and Twitter Tuesday (July 19) by Brandon Metchooyeah.

He told the Outlook he was on a guided tour with Canmore Trails and Tales from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday (July 18). When the tour group of himself, his partner and the guide reached the area at about 12 p.m., they noticed a man with kids with walking sticks or hiking poles against the mountain walls in and around the cave pictographs.

“My tour guide hollered at them. They scurried away. We continued our tour and we looked at the cave paintings,” Metchooyeah said. “He pointed out the damage that group [allegedly] caused brand new fresh damage to the paintings [on the] wall.”

Metchooyeah said they got a photo of the family and the pictographs a few moments after and when he and his partner got home they posted them online.

The Vegreville, Alta. local said after posting them online, they were contacted by Alberta Environment and Parks who said they were launching an investigation and took the alleged vandalism seriously.

The well-known pictographs are estimated to be between 500 and 1,300 years old. The pictographs are believed to show humans and animals and are painted with ochre.

In a 2002 essay for the Canadian Journal of Archaeology, authors Martin Magne and Michael Klassen outlined polarized light photography completed in 2001 helped enhance the pictograph.

The paper – A Possible Fluteplayer Pictograph Site Near Exshaw, Alberta – suggested the pictograph was “likely a fluteplayer motif and anthropomorphs that resemble the southwestern Fremont style.”

It said the site was likely related to Hopi traditions and is similar to pictographs found in the American southwest.

On Reddit, the postings had more than 2,500 comments as of Friday morning (July 20) on various forums.

Jacob Speckeen, the owner of Canmore Trails and Tales, said there were fresh scratchings on the pictographs but that he didn’t directly witness anyone doing it at the time.

Speckeen said the pictographs have a lacquer coating on it that helps protect it from potential damage.

He said he was going to reach out to Alberta Environment and Parks before commenting further.

Burgess said people can report illegal activities, enforcement concerns and public safety incidents at provincial parks and public recreation areas to the 24/7 reporting line 310-LAND (5263).