Star Phoenix

July 31, 1995

 

Amateur archeologist follows rocky road
in gaining respect
by Dale Eisler

 

PONTEIX -People used to think that Henri Liboiron was crazy. That was in 1950 after he had surgery to remove a brain tumor and they would see him wandering through the fields, his gaze fixed on the ground in front of him.

One time, a traveller passing through the town saw Liboiron walking aimlessly in a farmer's field. The curious driver stopped and asked what he was doing. "I told him archeology. He reported me to the RCMP and the officer just laughed." says Liboiron.

"I had been walking the fields since I was a kid but nobody paid any attention until I had my brain surgery. I guess for years people must have thought I was a wacky guy walking in the field. But they never asked and I never bothered to explain."

No one thinks Liboiron is crazy any more. Fascinated by archeology, perhaps, but crazy, not in the least.

In fact, an entire wing of the cultural centre in this town is know as the Notukeu Heritage Museum and is dedicated to Liboiron's lifelong quest of amateur archeology. It is filled with more than 10,000 artifacts, some of them estimated to be as much as 11,000 years old. There are glass cabinets stocked with stone arrowheads, spear points and crude tools made from rocks. One 12-metre showcase contains stone-age relics from an area known as the Niska site that was excavated 10 years ago.

It covers two archeological eras, one dating back 8,500 years and another going back almost 11,000. Discovered by Liboiron, it is the oldest occupation site that has been excavated and carbon-dated in the province.

"I guess you can say from this that I have rocks in my head,", jokes the 66-year-old retired farmer, who donates his time as museum curator.

Virtually, as long as he can remember, Liboiron has been fascinated by the ancient past. As a youngster during the wind-swept dustbowl years of the Dirty 30s, he saw how soil erosion uncovered stone remnants of past civilizations.

"It was the heart of the Depression and I remember going out at 5 a.m. to look for artifacts and not coming back until sundown. I guess it was my natural curiosity as a child. I would find these strange things from the past and I wanted to know more -who made them and why."

For the first few years, Liboiron's father would sell his son's findings to other collectors. One man who used to buy artifacts in the 1930s said he financed his children's university education by re-selling them to museums. He had no shortage of suppliers. With people on relief during the Depression, many tried to earn a few extra dollars by finding and selling the relics the relentless wind uncovered.

But by age 11, Liboiron decided to start his own collection and has been adding to it ever since. While others lost interest in archeology when the Depression ended. Liboiron remained fascinated by what he could find while wandering through the fields.

As fate would have it, this region of southwestern Saskatchewan is an area rich in archeology. It is believed at least six Indian tribes used the area for hunting and many of their tools and weapons were left behind. Covered for centuries by soil, slowly the tides of wind and water erosion have brought them back to the surface.

Liboiron estimates that for one six-year stretch, he found at least one relic from Indian civilizations virtually every month. Of his massive collection, which he kept in his home until moving into the museum at the beginning of 1994. Liboiron says his favourite is a spear point he found six kilometres south of Ponteix in 1988. As an artifact, he originally thought it dated back 9,000 years but, based on flaking patterns, it probably is closer to 7,000 years old.

"I found it in January of the year. There was no snow cover and a wind deflation had removed the top layer of soil and sand," Liboiron says.

Over the years, he has charted his findings faithfully. He has a map divided into quarter-sections that show 176 individual quarter-section plots where he has made archeological discoveries.

As for his technique at finding small treasures from the past, Liboiron says it's a skill that comes naturally. In fact, he likens it to being able to appreciate a beautiful woman.

"I don't look for artifacts. If you walk down the street and see a beautiful woman, but it's a half hour before you realize she's beautiful, then you don't know anything about a beautiful woman. It's the same for collecting. You have a mental picture and an artifact instantly strikes your eye."

Single and independent all his life, Liboiron admits he never could see himself married. "One lady said "I"ll give you a choice, it's either me or the rocks." I guess I picked the rocks."

All his collection grew over the years, so did his profile as an amateur archeologist. In 1963, along with University of Saskatchewan archeologist Zenon Pohorecky and others, Liboiron founded the Saskatchewan Archeology Society.

Tim Jones, executive director of the society, says Liboiron is perhaps the most accomplished and knowledgeable amateur archeologist in Canada. "His dedication to his work and his scientific knowledge is unquestionable," says Jones.

Since he quit farming in 1980, Liboiron has dedicated most of his time to his passion for the past. Although he has not actively searched for artifacts in recent years, he has merely shifted his focus to even more pre-historic pursuits. Of late, he has been working on his paleontological discovery of remains of a sea reptile.

Not bad for a guy who admits he has rocks in his head.

 

(same as Leader Post, August 16, 1995 article)

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