Can You Dig It?
History Hidden Beneath
ROUND LAKE – Five young people from the Ontario Ranger Camp at Foy Provincial Park on Round Lake took a break from their regular work routines to sift through both dirt and history. At the archaeological dig site located at the Lafleur Homestead on the Bonnechere River the five youths had an opportunity to learn about the archaeological process by getting their hands dirty.
“[The excavation units] are set up in squares and in each spot we dig with a trowel to see if we can find any artifacts,” said James Kelly, assistant sub-supervisor with the Ontario Ranger Program. “Where we are, there used to be barns but they burned down when the family lit a grass fire and it got away on them. Last week the group found a lot of stuff from the barns, like nails. And they also found a native bone awl.”
For three consecutive Thursdays the Ontario Rangers, and on Wednesdays members of the public, are helping archaeologists Marian Clark and Ken Swayze, examine the clearing in the woods where a series of building once stood, in an effort to determine what they were used for. Ontario Rangers usually perform heavy manual labour work such as brushing forest roads and trails, or rehabilitating campsites in Algonquin Park, so for them to be digging in the delicate fashion required for archaeology, was a bit of a change.
“This is a lot easier,” said Steve Hopkin, 16 of Sault Ste Marie. “Usually we do road work or more manual labour but today is educational. It’s more of a learning experience. Clearly there’s a pretty big difference – here you have to be a lot more careful.”
The dig site and the archaeology program are being conducted
through Bonnechere Provincial Park. Ms. Clark called the dig site an opportunity
to introduce the members of the public and the Ranges to the discipline
that is archaeology. Mr. Swayze said he showed the Rangers how to slowly
scrape away layers of soil, identify artifacts once found and how to photograph
and draw the excavation units. Although this is the first year that the
public and the Rangers have been invited to assist, digging has been ongoing
at the Lafleur homestead for four years.
Of the homestead and farm, only the home itself, a drive
shed and a piggery remain standing on the waterfront.
The prehistoric material recovered included pieces of
native bone tools. Ms. Clark believes the location has always been popular
because the Bonnechere River curves around property creating what she
called “a nice wide open space.”
WHITEWATER REGION - There's a lot more to Renfrew County than what appears on the surface. Helping to show that are people like Ken Swayze, a professional archaeologist who has been spending a great deal of his time working in the greater Ottawa area and Eastern Ontario. "People tend to think archeology as something which happens in exotic areas like Africa and Asia," he said, "but it is around here in Renfrew County as well," an area where people have lived for at least 10 000 years.
Mr. Swayze was the host at the Ross Museum in Foresters Falls Saturday for Archeology Day, a chance for the public to discuss artifacts they may have found at local sites, learn more about the science as well as about the Ottawa Valley's early history. "The idea behind this is to raise awareness of archeological sites in Renfrew County," he said. "When people think of the old times, they think pioneer days and the lumber industry," Which all have their important place in history, but there is so much more to it. The Algonkin people, for instance, lived here for thousands of years before Europeans began to first explore, then settle the Ottawa Valley. The problem is there remains only a finite number of sites in the county, and they are very fragile, constantly at risk of being destroyed by erosion or development.
Still, there has been a lot of notable work done. Mr. Swayze said that in the 1950s, Clyde Kennedy, who did archeology as a hobby, worked on Morris' Island and Allumette Island, doing a lot to raise awareness of the wealth of material which exists and the native peoples who live there. Another notable site is at Wilber Lake near Eganville. Known as the Kant Site after the owners of the land, Deep River resident Barry Mitchell worked the site for years, and Dave Croft of Pembroke worked at Mud Lake.
Currently, Mr. Swayze is busy working on behalf of the Friends of Bonnechere Parks, heading up a dig on the Little Bonnechere River which is part of a public archeological program running this summer. Every Wednesday, those who sign up at the park office can take part in excavating the Lafleur Homestead, an early pioneer site. "This is designed to get the public's imagination going," he said , and to raise awareness of the work itself.
One area which remains largely unexplored is the fact that much of Renfrew County was once a sea coast. Mr. Swayze said that Ottawa Valley was the site of the Champlain Sea, an ocean which over the span of thousands of years drained away, until only the Ottawa River was left. "Very few of the actual spots haven't been examined yet," he said, as no one has really been looking. "Perhaps in time someone will."
When asked about what objects people have been bringing him to examine, Mr Swayze said one person brought in a stone hammer he had gotten from Saskatchewan, but mostly those who paid him a visit shared stories with him. For the archeologist, he said it isn't the artifact itself which is important, but what it means to the greater picture, to what it can add to the story of the history of people who once lived on the site. "None of these things mean very much unless you know where they come from," Mr. Swayze said, explaining it is how the object relates to others like it in a specific locations which gives it value and meaning.