We ‘Dig’ History! Archaeology Day at the OCM

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

For a third year, the Oshawa Museum is proud to host International Archaeology Day on October 17!  With fun for the whole family planned, visit us and see for yourself why this event has quickly become a favourite amongst Oshawa Museum staff!

Archaeology is an important part of the interpretation at the Oshawa Community Museum.  Our Grandview Gallery in Robinson House helps tell the story of the Lake Ontario Iroquois, a group of First Nations who called this area home over 500 years ago. For far too long, the history of Oshawa began with Benjamin Wilson, an American who settled here in 1790 with his family, and so on and so forth.  By saying our history begins with Wilson, we are completely omitting the Lake Ontario Iroquois, who were settled with 10-15 longhouses, who hunted, who fished, and who farmed for a period of over 70 years.  Archaeology and the evidence it has given us helps us challenge the ‘traditional story,’ and we do so on every tour, through our interpretation and through the artifacts we have on display that were discovered during the excavation of the Grandview site in 1992.

Inside the Grandview Discovery Gallery
Inside the Grandview Discovery Gallery

Fun fact: there were over 11,000 artifacts unearthed during that salvage dig excavation, and all 11,000 are part of our collection at the Oshawa Museum.  Not all 11,000 are on display of course, but you can view exceptional examples when you visit!

Tools on display from the Grandview Archaeological excavation
Tools on display from the Grandview Archaeological excavation

There were two Aboriginal villages discovered through archaeological excavations; the MacLeod Site at Rossland and Thornton was discovered in the late 1960s, and the Grandview Site, around Grandview and Taunton, was discovered in 1992.  Both sites provide valuable information about the lives of the Lake Ontario Iroquois and have helped us at the Oshawa Museum shift how we tell the history of our City.

When people think about archaeology, ancient ruins, Egypt, Greece, Maya, or early First Nation settlements is what frequently comes to mind.  At the Oshawa Museum, we are fortunate to have two collections from late-historic archaeological sites: the Farewell Cemetery Collection and the Henry House Collection.  These two sites date to the mid to late 1800s and they provide information about Victorian lives and culture.

Coffin handle found during the removal and excavation of the Farewell Cemetery
Coffin handle found during the removal and excavation of the Farewell Cemetery

The Farewell Cemetery Collection is on display in conjunction with our latest exhibit, Mourning After: The Victorian Celebration of Death, and included in the display are a selection of coffin jewelry, coffin hardware (like handles), as well as nameplates and viewing glasses.  Curator Melissa Cole gives information on why the excavation took place and about the artifacts in her June 2015 Podcast.

The Farewell Cemetery excavation was performed by the Toronto based firm, Archaeological Services Inc., and they will be joining us for Archaeology Day, bringing along artifacts discovered locally, as well as delivering a talk on the Don Jail excavation.

Dr. Helen Haines (centre) and students from Trent Durham from the latest Henry House excavation
Dr. Helen Haines (centre) and students from Trent Durham from the latest Henry House excavation

Another proud Archaeology Day partner is Trent University Durham, who have partnered with us on this event from its inception.  This year, Dr. Helen Haines and Trent students will discuss the two archaeological digs that have happened here at the Museum.  In 2011 and again this past summer, the heritage gardens of Henry House have been investigated, and the findings have helped us re-evaluate what we know about the Henry family, strengthening our understanding on how they lived.  Artifacts that were discovered in 2011 will be on display, and Dr. Haines will deliver a talk on the two excavations.

Archaeology is a fascinating field, and Archaeology Day is an event where we get to celebrate and showcase the amazing history that has been unearthed here in Oshawa!  Please join us on October 17 for International Archaeology Day!

Archaeology Day 2015 Poster copy

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