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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 Ontario

Fort St. Joseph

In 1963, the University of Toronto accepted a contract to excavate Fort St. Joseph on St. Joseph's Island, near the Sault Ste. Marie, the work to be carried out under the general supervision of J. Norman Emerson. This post had been built by the British as a replacement for Fort Michilimackinac which had been ceded to the Americans following the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The new location was on the direct canoe route from Upper Canada to Lake Superior and may have been the site of an earlier French trading post. A base camp was established in the spring of 1796, but work was not vigourously prosecuted until 1798. By the autumn of 1803, most of the construction was finished. The American post at Michilimackinac remained, however, the chief center of the fur trade in that area and, when it was captured by the British in 1812, the traders and garrison moved there from Fort St. Joseph, leaving only seven men on the island to care for the buildings and the livestock. The British beat off a strong American attack on Michilimackinac in July, 1814, but the American expedition had stopped at St. Joseph's en route and burned this fort, with the exception of the stone magazine, to the ground. The Treaty of Ghent ended the war in December, 1814, and returned Michilimackinac to the United States. The British withdrew temporarily to St. Joseph's island, using the buildings of the South West Fur Company, and subsequently built their new frontier post ten miles away on Drummond Island. The magazine at Fort St. Joseph remained in use for about ten years serving the new post; however, when a boundary commission decided that Drummond Island was within United States territory, a third post was established (1828) at Penetanguishene and Fort St. Joseph was abandoned.

The 1963 excavations were under the direction of Helen E. Devereux (1965). The following year, a second contract was awarded to the University of Toronto and Michael J. Ashworth (1964) was appointed to direct the excavations under Emerson's supervision.

The above-ground ruins were recorded and the area around the fort, including near-by trading establishments, was surveyed. The majority of the buildings that comprised the military establishment were excavated; these included the blockhouse, the guardhouse, the bakery and a stores building. In addition, a series of trenches determined the location of all of the salient points of the bastions, delineated the lines of the palisade on the four sides of the fort and located the two gates. The effect of the research has been to show Fort St. Joseph as a military-trading complex rather than as a purely military post. Unfortunately, during the period of excavations, time and funds did not permit the adequate exploration of the associated trading establishments. Some 20,000 artifacts were recovered; many of these can be more closely dated than the 30-year span of the site. The artifact discussion in the final report (Emerson, Devereux and Ashworth 1966) is augmented by supplementary reports on the bricks (Swauger 1966) and nails (Dove 1966).

Fort Wellington

During 1965 and 1966, a number of small salvage excavations were carried out at Fort Wellington National Historic Park in Prescott, Ontario. Originally built in 1812, the fort was substantially modified around 1838.

The chief structure within the earthworks is a massive stone blockhouse, fifty feet square, built on the site of an earlier and larger blockhouse. In December, 1965, it was necessary to replace rotted floor boards in one room of the ground floor and, since this presented an excellentoppor tunity to examine sub-floor features, Karalee A. Coleman was sent to Fort Wellington to excavate the interior of this room. Elizabeth A. Wylie excavated an additional three rooms when more flooring was replaced in October, 1966. Coleman's excavations took place in the former powder magazine; she noted that the space below the floorboards was packed with lumps of charcoal, apparently to absorb moisture. The tongue-in-groove flooring was nailed to the support beams through the tongue so that nails were exposed only on the first and last boards, thereby reducing the possibility of sparks being struck from the metal heads (Coleman 1966). Also discovered were remains of the former blockhouse and a well associated with it (Wylie 1966); this latter feature is scheduled for excavation at a future date.

Brief excavations were carried out in August, 1965, by Louis A. Chevrette, assisted by Paul Villeneuve and Vandra Ward. The work was initiated to determine the cause of ground subsidence in the fort ramparts and excavations revealed the remains of a collapsed timber casemate, probably dating from the original construction in 1812 (Chevrette 1966). Time did not permit complete investigation of this complex area, but more extensive excavations are planned for the future.

Additional excavations at Fort Wellington were carried out during the summer of 1966 by Michael J. Ashworth, assisted by Don Groh. Two gun positions, one at the southeast and the other at the northeast corner of the fort, were dug to provide information for a proposed reconstruction of these positions. In the southeast corner, Ashworth located the pintle and racers of a 24-pounder cannon platform, while the second area yielded remains of a wooden platform for a 12-pounder gun (Ashworth 1966a).

Fort Malden

During the 1966 season, Iain C. Walker, assisted by DiAnn L. Herst, directed salvage excavations at Fort Malden National Historic Park in Amherstburg. A wall of the Hough House, one of the museum buildings at the park, had subsided and, in order to expose the foundations for repairs, it was necessary to trench through an area believed to be the site of an early 19th century guardhouse. The archaeological problem was to excavate the area which would be disturbed by repair work in order to salvage as much information as pos sible.

Construction started at Fort Malden in 1796. The guardhouse in question was built in 1821, possibly on the site of an earlier blockhouse, and was later modified about 1839. After the fort was converted into a lunatic asylum in 1859, the guardhouse served as a boiler-room for the newly-built, immediately adjacent laundry. This laundry was turned into a planing mill in 1875, and then was remodelled as a private house, the present Hough House museum, in 1921-22. At this latter date, the guardhouse was demolished and replaced by a sun porch.

In view of this complex sequence of buildings and modifications, and considering the limited extent of trenching permitted by the salvage nature of the work, it is hardly surprising that the confusing array of walls exposed is proving difficult to relate to the historical sequence. The subsidence of the Hough House wall, which necessitated the repairs and the excavations, proved to be caused by the fact that the house foundations had been built on an unconsolidated mass of collapsed brick, apparently connected with the 1821 guard house or, rather, with its modification from a wooden structure to a brick building sometime before 1839. While some of the other structural remains can be placed in sequence relative to each other and to this brick wall, their functions remain obscure. The problem is additionally complicated by the lack of datable artifacts. Analysis has not yet been completed, but it seems likely that the Malden investigations have raised a number of architectural problems which must remain unanswered until further excavations enable these isolated data to be placed in some sort of larger context.

Dollier and Galinée Wintering Place

Walker's second excavation of the season took place at Port Dover on Lake Erie; he was assisted by Elizabeth A. Wylie and Herst. The first known Europeans in this area were two French priests, Dollier and Galinée, who spent the winter of 1669-70 near the confluence of an unnamed river with Lake Erie. The identification of the present site on Black Creek as being the wintering place is not convincing and excavations were carried out to determine whether or not 17th-century European remains could be found on the supposed campsite.

One reason for identifying the Black Creek site as the Dollier-Galinée wintering place was the presence there of two low mounds, one circular and the other a hollow square. Excavation revealed these features to have been man-made, but their purpose remains unknown. The surrounding land was thoroughly trenched confirming that the rest of the area had been a marshy estuary and would have been an unlikely spot for anyone to have settled on. No positive evidence was found to authenticate the site and a fair amount of indirect evidence can be adduced to suggest that the original identification is erroneous. Nevertheless, historical evidence leaves little doubt that the actual site was somewhere in the general area.

Rainy River Burial Mounds

The remaining two excavations in Ontario during the 1966 season were carried out at the request of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. The first of these consisted of the investigation of one of a group of burial mounds (the Armstrong Mounds) which stretches for about a mile and a half along the Long Sault Rapids on Rainy River. The purpose of the excavation was to verify the nature of the mounds and to establish age and cultural affiliation so as to provide the Board with sufficient information to determine whether or not the site should be commemorated. A contract was awarded to the University of Toronto which appointed Walter Kenyon of the Royal Ontario Museum to direct the work. Kenyon excavated one mound 80 ft. in diameter and 8 ft. high and reports (Kenyon 1966) the discovery of several secondary burials painted with powdered hematite. A wood sample from the logs delimiting the burials has been submitted to the National Museum of Canada for radiocarbon dating. Kenyon associates the mound with the Laurel Tradition and tentatively dates the burials to some 2,000 years ago.


The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada also requested archaeological investigations as an aid in establishing the location of Cahiagué, a Huron village visited by Champlain in 1615. McIlwraith (1946) and Emerson (1964) equate Cahiagué with the Warminster Site, a large, palisaded, contact-period Huron village near Orillia. Proof of identity rests largely on the determination of the actual size of the Warminster village site, since size is one of the few features commented on by Champlain. In 1966, a contract was awarded to the University of Toronto to cover part of the costs of tracing the palisade in an attempt to establish the area enclosed, and, hence, the possible number of longhouses contained therein. The excavations were directed by Conrad Heidenreich, assisted by Allan Tyyska, and under the general supervision of J. N. Emerson.

Previous work at Warminster (Emerson 1965) had established two distinct house types and had resulted in extensive excavation of the palisade at the west end of the village. The 1966 program revealed "that the area under investigation is separated into two clearly demarcated areas, each strongly palisaded, and these are in turn separated by an area of sterile ground" (Emerson 1966: 2). The obvious question is whether or not these two segments are contemporaneous and constitute a single settlement divided on, say, a clan basis. Midden areas were excavated in both segments of the site and it is hoped that artifact analysis will clarify the temporal relationship between the two parts.

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