Parks Canada Banner
Parks Canada Home

Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 1

Archaeological Investigations of the National Historic Sites Service, 1962-1966

by John H. Rick

Excavations in Quebec

The Old Jesuit House

In September of 1962, the author began excavations at the "Old Jesuit House" in the Quebec City suburb of Sillery. This house stands on the site of a Jesuit mission built in 1637 and destroyed by fire twenty years later. Representations had been made to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada to declare the house a site of national importance, primarily because of its supposed association with important historical figures during the 1637-57 period. Documentary and architectural evidence proved inconclusive, and archaeological investigations were carried out in an effort to determine the relationship of the present structure to the original mission.

The cellar of the Jesuit House is divided roughly in two by a transverse wall; the east half is a single open space, while the west portion is filled with earth to the height of the ground floor joists. This situation presented two obvious possibilities, the first being that the exterior walls of the present cellar were built as a unit with the transverse wall as a later addition. Alternatively, the earth-filled half could represent the foundations of a smaller, earlier structure of which the east wall was the present transverse wall; this would mean that the east half of the existing cellar represents a later period of construction. Since the transverse wall had been cut away at either end, it was not possible to establish its relationship with the north and south exterior walls; however, trenches excavated outside the house against the north wall indicated that the foundations of the Old Jesuit House represent a single piece of construction.

The Old Jesuit House is situated at the bottom of a steep bluff where runoff is sufficient, even under normal weather conditions, to cover the cellar floor with several inches of water and to flood the low spots in the back yard. Made worse by an unusually wet summer, these water conditions forced suspension of the excavations. The Engineering and Architectural Division of the National and Historic Parks Branch was called in to construct a drainage system which would permit digging the next summer.

The drains, installed in the autumn of 1962, reduced the flow of ground water to a manageable level. More important, the trenches for these drains revealed the stub of a three-foot thick stone wall to the north of the present house. The author and his assistant, Ian C. Rodger, returned to the site in August of 1963. Excavations showed this wall to be the remains of the north curtain of the mission fortifications. The northwest bastion — a round, stone tower — was also uncovered, as was part of the west curtain. One small portion of the east curtain was found. The south wall and its two bastions appear to be under a railway embankment and the northeast bastion seems to have been destroyed in the building of a neighbouring house. These excavations established that the present house is located on the mission site, but did nothing to prove or disprove its antiquity.

Early in 1964. the owners of the house removed the flooring above the west half of the cellar, thereby affording an opportunity to dig in this area. Rodger began excavations in March; he discovered the remains of a stone wall forming part of two sides of an earlier structure which had been cut through to build the foundations of the existing house. On this evidence, the Old Jesuit House must post-date the main period of mission activity.

The final excavations were carried out by Rodger and the author during the latter part of May, 1964. While several small walls were uncovered in front of the Old Jesuit House, these could not be traced without tearing up the heavily travelled street which bisects the site. A stone wall was discovered extending at right angles east from the west curtain, but a large tree had obliterated the crucial junction; this new wall was followed until it ran under a modern annex to the Old Jesuit House. A brief excavation carried out beside the chapel revealed several poorly preserved skeletons of children. The chapel itself had been thoroughly excavated in the late 19th century and additional work in this area seemed pointless.

Except for one or two strata immediately above bedrock, there is little undisturbed ground at the site. Constant activity for three centuries (including construction of a paved street through the middle of the site) has made it virtually impossible to trace stratigraphy from structures of known date (such as the chapel and the fortifications) across the site to the present house. Artifacts were abundant, but occurred almost entirely in the upper, disturbed levels; nothing was found that could be stratigraphically associated with known early walls. The study of this material is not yet complete, but so far nothing of indisputably 17th-century origin has been identified. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that buildings existed on the site prior to the 1637 construction. Therefore, whether the earliest structures found date from 1637 or from after the fire of 1657, the present Old Jesuit House must be regarded as later still.

Cartier's Wintering Place

The author's final investigation of the 1962 season took place at the junction of the Lairet and St. Charles rivers in Quebec City. The purpose of the work was to locate, if possible, the remains of a fort built by Jacques Cartier during the winter of 1535-36, supposedly at this confluence.

Prior to this, in 1959, the National Historic Sites Service had employed Kenneth E. Kidd to search for the fort. Kidd's excavations were carried out on a strip of vacant land known as the Townend property, located on the north bank of the St. Charles River immediately west of the Lairet. Some of the remains uncovered may be part of the 17th-century Jesuit seigneury of Notre Dame des Anges, but no trace of Cartier's settlement was found. Kidd (1959) concluded that further search for 16th-century remains at that spot would prove fruitless.

Since nothing had been found on the west side of the Lairet, it was decided to undertake exploratory excavation on the east bank. The 1962 work (Rick 1963) took place on a small area of unbuilt-on land consisting of Cartier-Brebeuf Park and an adjoining lot to the west. Each of the thirty five pits dug showed the same stratigraphic sequence, and the pits were so spaced over the park that there can be no doubt that the excavated area is typical of the entire site.

The uppermost stratum in each pit was a foot-thick layer of sandy clay. Artifacts were abundant, but most were obviously 20th century and none appeared to predate the late 19th century. Below the first stratum was a layer of sand followed by a layer of sandy clay; both were water deposited and undisturbed by human activity. One pit was excavated to a depth of 6.2 ft. below surface and a number of others were dug to depths of four or five feet, but no new strata were encountered. No traces of posts were encountered in any of the strata and no artifacts came from below the first level.

It is hardly surprising that no sign of Cartier's fort was found; even if one accepts as fact the belief that he wintered near the junction of the St. Charles and the Lairet, there is absolutely no proof that he built his fort in either of the areas dug. But, had he done so, there could have been only a slight chance that much would have survived in an area that has been the centre of so much human activity for so many years. What is astonishing is that no evidence was found of the shipbuilding and other industries known to have been carried out at this site in more recent times. All traces of pre-20th century activity on the park site have been obliterated.

10 Structure 1, uncovered during the 1959 excavations at Cartier-Brebeuf Park, is a well-built foundation wall measuring 17 ft. x 7 ft. and may be the remains of one of the structures associated with the 17th century Jesuit seigneury of Notre Dame des Anges. It bears a striking resemblance to masonry found at Ste. Marie I, a Jesuit site of the same period, both in terms of stone-working techniques and the use of timber as a sill on which to build the masonry superstructure. This use of timber sills was also noted in excavation of the Number 2 Powder Magazine, a 1708 French building at Fort Anne National Historic Park, described in this paper.
(Kenneth E. Kidd.)

Montreal City Walls

In 1963, the author briefly excavated in Montreal in response to a request from the City Planning Department for archaeological assistance. In the course of demolishing two buildings, workmen had uncovered walls thought to be those of the 18th century fortifications of the city. One of the walls, paralleling West Commissioner's Street at the corner of rue St-Sulpice, is somewhat less thick than documents show the city wall to have been. This wall formed one side of the basement of the demolished structure, but had obviously been built at an earlier date and subsequently incorporated into the building. However, construction of, and subsequent additions to, the building had completely destroyed archaeological evidence on one side of the wall, while the other side could not be examined because it underlay the street.

Whether or not this represents the city's fortifications might be determined by documentary research; archaeologically there is no evidence one way or the other. Two other walls, at the corner of Ruelle des Fortifications and St-Gabriel, were found to postdate the construction of the Hôtel de France and, since this had been built about 1818, the walls cannot be part of the city's fortifications.

Villa de la Broquerie

In 1962. Louis A. Chevrette and Christopher J. Turnbull carried out a resistivity survey and brief excavations at the Villa de la Broquerie in Boucherville. This house, also known as Sabrevois Manor, was reputed to have been built by Pierre Boucher in 1668, but subsequent architectural analysis and historical research (Lee 1965a) seem to date the oldest part of the building to about 1735. However, proponents of the antiquity of the house claimed that the latter interpretation was erroneous and asserted that the ruins of a chapel associated with the 1668 construction could be found to the northwest of the present building. The resistivity survey confirmed the existence of masonry remains, but excavations established that these were an integral part of the present house foundations, not a separate chapel as had been supposed. The archaeological evidence, therefore, bolsters the conclusions of the historians that the Villa de la Broquerie is not associated with the house, chapel and redoubt built by Pierre Boucher in 1668 (Chevrette 1965).

Fort Lennox

Ile-aux-Noix is a low-lying, 210-acre island in the Richelieu River about ten miles north of the U.S. border. Although Champlain is reputed to have visited the island in 1609, the first recorded settlement was not before 1753. In 1759, the French, having been forced to abandon their Lake Champlain posts, entrenched themselves at Ile-aux-Noix and threw stockades across the river channels to close the passage to the advancing British troops. These fortifications delayed the British attack until August of 1760 when reinforcements arrived. Surrounded on three sides, the French commander embarked the greater part of his forces in canoes and escaped with them to Saint-Jean and Montreal under cover of darkness. The capture of the island was the prelude to the fall of Montreal and the loss of New France.

Subsequently, the island was briefly garrisoned by British troops and, in 1775, was captured and used as a temporary base by invading American forces. The loss of, and the need for defence against, the American colonies emphasized the importance of Ile-aux-Noix in guarding the potential invasion route afforded by the Richelieu River; 1780 marked the beginning of the construction of major fortifications on the island. During the War of 1812, the island became a naval station where small warships were constructed.

The years following this war marked another period of major construction as new fortifications were erected on the south end of the island; the present earthworks and surviving buildings date from this period and the site appears to have been named Fort Lennox about this time. After British troops were withdrawn in 1870, the site was used as a prison and subsequently abandoned until it became a national historic park in 1921 (Lee 1965c).

11 Excavations on the glacis, Fort Lennox, 1966 season. The exposed logs are pickets from a British redoubt of the 1780s. When this structure was demolished to make way for the present Fort Lennox, the palisades were cut down and thrown into the ditch around the redoubt. This ditch appears to have been part of an earlier French fortification incorporated into the British works.
(Roger T. Grange, Jr.)

The first season of archaeological investigations was carried out in 1964 under the direction of Norman F. Barka, assisted by M. Joseph Becker and Ian C. Rodger. Major emphasis was on structures built after the War of 1812; a large hospital and its associated cookhouse and a gun shed were among the buildings excavated. A bakehouse built in 1823 was partially dug and this work was subsequently completed the following season. Extensive excavation was carried out in the area of an 1823 ordnance shed and a large men's barracks which had been built in 1780 and demolished before 1829; no definite trace of the former was found and the latter survived only in the form of two large hearths and some soil stains which may indicate the former position of wooden walls. The search for a lime kiln and a well proved fruitless. Traces of the first British fort were found under the glacis of the present Fort Lennox, but much of these early works must have been obliterated during construction of the existing moat. The considerable amount of overburden in this area slowed down excavation, and major work on the British fort had to be deferred until the following year. Attempts to find the French fortifications were unsuccessful.

Michael J. Ashworth and Ian C. Rodger were co-directors of the 1965 excavations, with Louis A. Chevrette and Judith L. Palaski as assistants. Much of the work was centered on buildings of the 1812-70 period and among the structures excavated were the marine barracks, a commissariat, two shipwrights' huts, a stable, a cookhouse and a civilian hospital which had been converted (in 1829) for use as a chapel. Excavation of the bakery, which had been partially dug in 1964, was completed. An earthwork, popularly believed to have been a dry dock, was tested; it seems improbable that this construction could have served its reputed function, a more likely possibility being that it represents the start of a projected, but never completed, new system of fortifications around the island.

Work continued on the first British fort, part of which had been discovered in 1964 under the present glacis of Fort Lennox. The main part of the excavation in this area was concentrated on a structure tentatively identified as the mess house, in the cellar of which was found a cache of regimental porcelain and glassware. A British redoubt built about the same period (i.e., 1780-83) was partially excavated. It had been constructed with a double row of masonry for the outer walls, behind which were casemates of log construction. In the interior of the redoubt was found a well-constructed drainage system probably servicing structures built after 1819. The redoubt itself had been demolished to make way for the naval yard (Ashworth 1966b).

No trace of French remains were found. The excavations yielded a large quantity of artifacts of various kinds, a number of them very closely dated stratigraphically.

The final work at Fort Lennox was a two-month season in 1966 directed by Roger T. Grange, Jr., assisted by Marcel Plouffe and John A. Senulis. About a quarter of the 1780s British redoubt and its associated blockhouse had been excavated the previous year; this work was completed by Grange. Work also continued on the first British fort which had been discovered beneath the glacis of the present fort in 1965 and which had been more extensively excavated the following year. The 1966 program uncovered many more structural features of these fortifications including remnants of palisading and pickets in situ. When this fort had been levelled to make way for Fort Lennox, the palisade posts had apparently been chopped off and thrown into the original ditch to fill it and many of these timbers have been found, mostly in a good state of preservation. Definite French remains were uncovered in this area and it was established that the first British fort had incorporated portions of the earlier French works.

A mound on the east side of the island was excavated to determine whether or not it was a French blockhouse located in that general part of the Island. The structure uncovered proved to be a rectangular building of timber construction. The large quantify of bottles and the good quality of the earthenware found suggests that this may have been a private residence or a recreational facility of the late 18th or early 19th century. The structure was completely excavated, but a detailed analysis of the artifacts recovered will be necessary before its date and function can be determined with certainty.

On the west side of the island, a rectilinear pattern of surface depressions was investigated to ascertain whether or not this might be the location of the French redoubt, St. Antoine. Upon excavation, the feature proved to consist of drainage ditches and the foundation posts of a small temporary residential structure. American and English coins dating from about 1787 were recovered from this area.

A number of other excavations were carried out in areas where the meagre documentation suggested French structures might have been located. Various architectural features were found, but only extensive analysis will show whether or not these can be dated to the French period. At present, only the work in the area of the first British fort can be said to have definitely revealed traces of the French occupation.

Coteau du Lac

The passage of the St. Lawrence River between Lake Ontario and Montreal is interrupted by three major rapids which exerted a most important influence on transport and communication between Upper and Lower Canada. Of these three, the rapids at Coteau du Lac, near the present city of Valleyfield, were the narrowest and swiftest, and all water traffic was confined to a difficult passage suitable only for small boats, or to a time-consuming overland portage. Towards the end of the 18th century, the economic and political need to foster the development of Upper Canada coincided with the military necessity of supplying the western military outposts against attack from the former British colonies to the south. As a result, Lieutenant William Twiss of the Royal Engineers was commanded to build a fortified canal by passing the rapids at Coteau du Lac. Work began during the summer of 1779 and, by the autumn of the next year, Twiss had completed a canal with locks, a storehouse and two small blockhouses. Subsequent work included the construction of barracks and stables plus a prisoner-of-war compound on a nearby island. The War of 1812 brought about construction of a substantial fort, the widening and deepening of the canal and the replacement of the lock gates. Except for a brief flurry of activity during the Rebellion of 1837, the post was allowed to gradually decay and, in 1851, the military establishment was abolished. The commercial importance of the canal had also declined following the construction of the Beauharnois Canal in 1842-45 and the increased use of larger steam vessels on the St. Lawrence.

12 Aerial view of the fortifications surrounding the canal at Coteau du Lac. At the left end of the canal may be seen the foundations of one of the early blockhouses built to defend it against American attack. In the right foreground, the unusual cloverleaf bastion juts out onto the rock flats that were once river bottom. The low water level is due to modern dams, but the photograph shows a surviving portion of the rapids which the canal was intended to bypass.

During the summer of 1965, William J. Folan, assisted by Henry E. Sauerbrunn, directed a three-month excavation program at Coteau du Lac. This was followed, in 1966, by two months of excavation again under the direction of Folan, this time assisted by Roger Marois. These two seasons of work resulted in the complete excavation of the canal and every major building on the site. Some of these buildings, such as the hospital and the combination hospital-master carpenter's shop were built early in the site's history, possibly during the Revolutionary War, and were substantially repaired and converted to new uses during the War of 1812; the hospital, for example, having originally been a storehouse. Many of these older structures were allowed to fall into ruin in the years after the latter war. A good deal of new construction was initiated during the war years and immediately thereafter; much of this gradually decayed, but some structures survived to be sold and moved off the site in 1872. This sale and subsequent removal undoubtedly accounts for the absence of substantial architectural remains in a number of cases where such remains might reasonably have been expected.

The two blockhouses constructed in 1780 at the ends of the canal were excavated as was an unusual octagonal blockhouse designed to hold 200 men; it was built in 1814 and burned in 1837. Other excavated structures include a barracks for 288 men, a powder magazine, a guard house, several warehouses, a church, a bakery, a canteen and various residences such as the commandant's quarters. The prisoner-of-war encampment on nearby Arthur Island was examined, but time and money did not permit extensive excavation of this area.

When Folan departed in June, 1966, in order to direct excavations in British Columbia, his assistant, Roger Marois, remained to excavate a number of gun platforms and to complete the tracing of the system of cobbled roadways which link the various buildings of the post. Marois also excavated two Indian burials, tentatively identified as late Laurentian Archaic, found beneath the post's clover-leaf bastion.

Thousands of artifacts, including a set of lock gates from the canal, have been recovered during the two seasons of excavation. The virtual absence of significant vertical stratigraphy at this site makes it unlikely that these pieces can be dated by stratigraphic means much more closely than the 70-year span of the site. Nevertheless, excellent documentary sources provide a knowledge of the function of each building excavated and should make it possible to relate the artifacts to less tangible cultural manifestations such as social class, use and function.

13 An early stage in the excavation of the canal at Coteau du Lac. Much of the reusable stone in the canal walls and the fort buildings was removed for civilian construction following the abandonment of the site. With most of the retaining walls gone, the canal became choked with tons of rock and earth and a mine railway proved to be the only feasible method of removing this. The railway was subsequently employed at Fort Beausejour where the confined space within the walls prevented the use of trucks. Shown in the photograph are the dump cars used to transport earth and one of the flat-bed cars employed in hauling rock.
(Walter Zacharchuk.)

previous Next

Last Updated: 2006-10-24 To the top
To the top