Monday, May 28, 2007

Adopt a Collection: Archaeological Artefacts

Shoebox Archaeology

Growing up at my grandparent’s cottage on Gananoque Lake, I was often told stories of the native people who once lived in the area and hunted and fished on the Lake. We’d often explore what seemed like endless miles of woods in the hopes of coming across some ancient and forgotten piece of evidence from the times before the coming of Europeans. Native peoples, such as the Mississauga, Ojibwa, and other First Nations, used the Thousand Islands as a meeting and summering place and evidence of their occupation was obvious to arriving settlers. Early maps of Gananoque show “Indian Burying Places” on the rocky points jutting into the confluence of the Gananoque and St. Lawrence Rivers, and the thin soil of the Islands easily revealed the scattered remnants of former camps to the inquisitive newcomers. The First Peoples of the region sold their lands to the British government who then parcelled it out to the settlers and refugee Loyalists. The various native bands living in the area were slowly driven out as the landscape changed drastically. The trees were cleared, farms were established and the wildlife was decimated, taking away the Native people’s traditional way of life. The place names, though, often remained in spite of the fact that the meanings were generally obscured by time. In Thaddeus Leavitt’s History of Leeds and Grenville (1879), he presents the then popular image of the “noble savage” and includes a poignant section of a poem from W.E. Guest:

“They have all passed away,
That noble race and brave,
Their light canoes have vanished,
From Oft the Crested Wave,
Their name is on your waters,
You may not wash it out.”

There is a certain truth to this, at least with regard to Gananoque. At one point Colonel Stone attempted to change the name to the Thames River, but it just didn’t catch on, even though the Gananoque is called the Thames on a number of early maps.

The romanticism of the period inspired people to souvenir hunt through the Thousand Islands and elsewhere before the sites were properly identified and protected as parks. There was nothing to stop people from poking around ancient campsites and filling up their packs with whatever they found. Some of these items found their way into the Gananoque Museum Collections. People should never disturb an archaeological site. It’s much like a crime scene with clues scattered all about. Seemingly random placement of items can tell a trained archaeologist a great deal of information. Often times, digging something up and throwing it in a box can destroy an entire site. So, if you do find things out there, don’t touch them.

Luckily, we can tell where some of the items in the collections came from, as an amateur historian, Frank Eames, attached labels to the various sherds of pottery he found. Most of them state that they came from Hay Island and were dug up in the late 1920s. Pottery, stone hatchets, spear and arrow points make up the collection, along with a few deer bone awls and other items. The problem of actually identifying them is made more difficult, however, in that the Hay Island items are mixed in with items from other sites as well as native crafts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 2005, Dr. Beverly Smith from the University of Michigan, visited the Arthur Child Heritage Museum and identified a number of the objects that are on display there. The collection contains objects that date from just before the arrival of Europeans in North America to spear points that were made somewhere around 8000 BC – just a short time after the last ice age!

As you can see from these pictures we have many small artefacts that not only need to be researched and properly identified, but they also need to be stored so they don’t get lost. We are requesting the public to help out. You can adopt the entire collection for the price of a large, shallow drawer tool chest (approx. $189 – 300) to store them in or some generous person could adopt the collection by donating a used tool chest or map case. In return, your name or your business name will be clearly marked as a sponsor and supporter of our local heritage when the items are displayed. You will also receive a CD containing images of the artefacts.

To adopt this collection of artefacts or for more information contact me at


Gananoque Museum Collections
c/o The Arthur Child Heritage Museum
125 Water Street
Gananoque, Ontario

Joel Stone Comic Book

Although I still haven’t managed to come up with a satisfying title yet, Westley Cote has done some great work bringing Gananoque’s founder to life. Here is a little sneak peak at how the comic will look when it is finished in August. Working from the oil portrait of Colonel Stone, Wes has created the young Joel Stone that will be the main character in the story. Stay tuned for more.

No comments: