On a hot summer day there is nothing better than going to the park with family and friends to enjoy the atmosphere. In Montreal, the newly restored Beaver Lake on Mount Royal has been drawing thousands of visitors, but standing out among the throngs of sunbathers and picnickers are picketed-off areas with an archeological team digging strategically placed holes.
Clad in their orange vests and armed with a variety of tools, the Ethnoscope Inc team led by Christian Gates St-Pierre, an expert in Quebec prehistoric dig sites, has been working since the beginning of July carefully extracting artifacts from various locations on and around Mount Royal. “We do archaeology to salvage sites that may be destroyed by construction,” St-Pierre said explaining the role of Ethnoscope.
This time however it was the city of Montreal that hired his team in order to survey the area around the Smith House in Mount Royal Park. “It’s the most likely area where we can find historical artifacts,” said St-Pierre.
According to historical records, the area surrounding the Smith House was once a farm in the late 1800s. “Around here we’ve discovered a few artifacts from the 19 century,” St-Pierre said, “such as nails used in constructing the barn houses and other buildings which surrounded the Smith House.”
Some of the finds go even further back with the discovery of prehistoric quarry sites in the vicinity of the mountain. “During the spring we were digging for a couple of weeks on the other side closer to Outremont,” St-Pierre said. “We discovered a prehistoric quarry where we found evidence that Native Americans extracted feldspar which was used to make stone tools.”
During previous excavations in and around the park, prehistoric burial sites were discovered. According to logs of French explorer Jacques Cartier, there were two Iroquoian villages at the base of Mount Royal.
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The surveying of the area was aided by the use of the Smith House as a reference point in conjunction with maps of the area dating from the 19 century. The digs are conducted with surgical precision with the soil from clean-cut square sections being extracted and sifted through before being returned back into the ground with little to no evidence that a dig was even conducted in the area.
Many of the finds retrieved at the site tell stories of the people who once lived in the area. A bone dice, a marble, bits of a pipe, a porcelain doll head, half a doorknob, and some broken ceramic were unearthed on that sunny day of the dig. These relics bring to life the daily existence of people from a time long gone.
The dig at the Mount Royal site will be ongoing until the end of July and with a wealth of history buried beneath the foothill of Mount Royal there will be plenty more unearthed in the coming weeks. In the midst of all the summertime revelers and the scorching heat, St-Pierre’s team of diggers continue to unearth relics from the past in order to shed light on our city’s history.
For those interested in learning more about dig sites and archaeological finds in Montreal and Quebec, August will be the ninth Archaeology Month in the province. This edition, organized by the Archéo-Québec network with the theme of “Archaeology up close”, will bring the public closer to our cultural past with hands-on events, such as simulated digs and site visits which are aimed at bringing history to life.
For information on events in your area, check out www.archeoquebec.com