Dr. Stephen A. Davis

Date award received: 

The Smith-Wintemberg Award is presented to honour members of the Canadian archaeological community who have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the discipline of archaeology or to our knowledge of the archaeological past of Canada.  This is the CAA's highest award and with the national conference here in the Atlantic Region, I write to nominate Dr. Stephen A. Davis, Professor Emeritus of Saint Mary's University and President of Davis, MacIntyre and Associates.  The following is a summary of Dr. Davis' career and I thank his colleagues, former students and friends for their input and support of this nomination.

Though born in Edmonton, Alberta, Steve Davis is a true Maritimer as over 40 years of work, research and family life can attest. As an archaeologist his primary interest has been the prehistory of the Atlantic Northeast. Fostered as an undergraduate student at the University of New Brunswick  from '67 to '71, Steve developed his interest in the prehistory of the region and in particular coastal environments and resource use with graduate work at Memorial University and a Masters thesis on the Teachers Cove Site in New Brunswick. The Masters degree was followed by a PhD in Prehistory from the University of Oxford and his dissertation Man, Molluscs and Mammals: A Study of Land Use and Resources in the Late Holocene of the Maritime Provinces of Canada.   His formal training and extensive fieldwork has been augmented with 34 years of teaching archaeology between the University of Oxford, Memorial University, St. Francis Xavier and Saint Mary's where he is presently Professor Emeritus of Anthropology.  His career at Saint Mary's has been formally recognized in recent years with the President's Award for Excellence in Research, the Father William A. Stewart Medal for Excellence in Teaching and the Faculty of Arts Excellence in Teaching Award.  Beyond the Maritimes, Steve has conducted fieldwork in Spain, Norway, Maine, the British Isles, Northwest Territories, Ontario and the Canadian Arctic. He has become involved more so in recent years with historic sites archaeology.

Finally, within the realm of historical archaeology, Steve's contribution to urban archaeology in Halifax cannot be overlooked.  Before the mid 1980s urban archaeology did not exist in Halifax. Everyone knows who led the initial charge. It was a cold January morning in '84 when Steve posted a sign-up sheet and 20 of his undergrads eagerly met him downtown. Development was halted for the morning only. We waded knee high in mud to salvage whatever we could. That initial effort led to 3 years of work for students, publications and to date the largest material culture collection yet to be recorded - over 25,000 artifacts - from the colonial founding era of Halifax in 1749.   The Central Trust Project set a precedent and began the dialogue with officials.  Today we have over 40 urban sites recorded on the peninsula alone.

With over 80 publications, manuscripts and conference papers, and over 100 cultural resource assessment reports, weighing in on the current state of archaeology in the region and future research directions is regular activity for Steve. When reviewing his scholarship common themes resurface.  Of particular note is his multi-year work on coastal erosion for the Council of Maritime Premiers.  A cross- Maritime effort to address a critical problem affecting coastal sites,  Steve and his colleagues in the Maritime Committee on Archaeological Cooperation explored and recorded sites and developed strategies to address the alarming rate of coastal attrition in the Maritimes and its devastating effect on archaeological resources.  Developing an inventory of sites, assessing condition and projecting future impacts was key to this long term initiative that harnessed archaeological expertise from all the Maritime Provinces around a shared heritage issue.  This initial work is even more relevant today as the impacts of coastal erosion and sea-level rise reach an all time high in the Maritimes.

Steve's work on the Debert-Belmont sites must also be mentioned. Until 1989 only one Palaeo-Indian site was recorded for the Maritime Provinces.  This was the Debert Site which was excavated by George MacDonald in '63-'64 and has long been recognized as a highly significant habitation site. In 1989, as the result of some land clearing for tree breeding in the area, two additional habitation sites, Belmont I and Belmont II, and some smaller habitations sites in close proximity were recorded. As a primary investigator, Steve has developed his own conclusions about the Debert-Belmont Sites as hunting and processing centers, as discrete verses large residential units, and concerning discrepancies in the dating of the sites.  Everyone agrees that the research questions surrounding Debert and Belmont are complex.  Steve suggests that the full excavation of the Belmont sites supported by an interdisciplinary framework is most likely to produce answers about the first inhabitants of Mi'kma'ki.

Compared to the rest of the country archaeology programs in the Maritimes were slow in developing. A document prepared in 1979 for the Council of Maritime Premiers stated serious concerns for the region such as:  there is little involvement by Maritime universities in teaching archaeology or in undertaking archaeological research programs in the Maritime setting; there is widespread disparity in the level of archaeological services offered by the three Maritime provinces; there is little access to archaeological knowledge, as a result there are few people involved in Maritime archaeology; relatively little is known about Maritime archaeological heritage; there is poor appreciation of our archaeological heritage in the Maritimes by the public at large; as a combination of  the above, there is no archaeological "infrastructure" in the Maritimes. 

Through his faculty position at Saint Mary's University Steve dedicated himself to addressing these problems.  He was one of a very small group - less than you can count on one hand - who worked to get archaeology on the agenda and as a result many of us began a lifelong path.  Steve's contribution in raising public, academic and governmental awareness is immeasurable and invaluable.  How do you measure over 34 years of specific efforts to stimulate dialogue, create understanding and develop expertise about Maritime archaeology? Steve in many ways got the discussions started. He laid the groundwork for the rest of us. In those formative years he was our signpost.  We learned much and took that foundation to the next level.

 His professional and academic accomplishments are many.  Let us recall Steve the educator, the mentor and an advocate for students.  Steve's legacy can be found in the hundreds of students he impacted as a professor of archaeology at Saint Mary's University for 34 years.  When broken down, and I have considered the numbers, that is nearly 350 students with the seeds of archaeology as a window to the near and distant past instilled in young minds.  Numerous students - too many to list here - influenced by his passion and commitment continued to the graduate level and beyond in archaeology and can be found sprinkled across Canada and the United States working, teaching, researching and contributing to the development of the discipline today.  Many such students (many here at this banquet tonight) fondly recall that their very first opportunity to dig or better yet, to dig and get paid, was because of the determination of Dr. Davis.  He worked tirelessly to get the students in the field.  He found money and support for archaeological fieldwork in Nova Scotia in the 70's and 80s!  That was no small feat.

In closing, Steve has had many roles in his archaeological career - professor, scholar, mentor, field director, researcher, businessman, fundraiser, author, driver, host, cook, chief bottle washer, and the list goes on.  His abilities are many and we have learned much from his professional life. He has had a unique and critical impact on archaeology in this region and his place as a significant contributor to the archaeology of Canada is assured. We are honored to gather and celebrate his career and achievements.

If Steve were reviewing this letter he would be the first to say what about those who helped along the way. None of this was accomplished in isolation. Over the years Steve has worked and co-published with several well-known specialists in the prehistory and history of the Atlantic northeast. Chris Turnbull, David Sanger, David Keenlyside, David Christianson, Bjorn Simonson, Jim Tuck, Michael Deal, and John Reid to name a few. 

Dr. Stephen Davis' academic and professional focus and commitment has been here in the Maritimes. It is fitting that we recognize and celebrate him while we host this national event in Nova Scotia.

Respectfully submitted,



Katie Cottreau-Robins
Curator of Archaeology, Nova Scotia Museum
Chair, CAA 2011 Halifax Conference