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Charles E. Borden

Award received: 
The Smith-Wintemberg Award
Date award received: 
1978
Charles E. Borden

Carl Borden died, unexpectedly, Christmas afternoon 1978. He had been in poor health for some time with diabetes, lung cancer, and heart disease, but continued to work on archaeological reports up to the time of his death. Christmas morning he had completed editing his chapter in a book on prehistoric Northwest Coast art on which he had been working for some time. The massive stroke which took him deprived us of the grandfather of B.C. archaeology, an eponym to which he himself subscribed. He was 40 years old before he seriously took up archaeology, but became widely known and respected in this field in the ensuing years.

My acquaintance with Carl Borden began in June, 1952. He was standing on the bank of the Stewart River at the site of the prehistoric village of Chinlac when I and another student arrived in a small boat to take part in the excavation of this known Carrier Indian site, and lay the foundation for the direct historic approach to Carrier prehistory. Much of Carrier hunting territory in Tweedsmuir Park was about to be inundated by the rising waters of the Kemano power reservoir, and Dr. Borden had succeeded in obtaining funds from both the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan), and the provincial Ministry of Education for the survey and excavation which began in 1951 and continued in 1952. Almost every succeeding summer saw him in the field undertaking survey, excavation, or visiting other projects until his retirement in 1970. His last field work was a visit to my project at Namu in 1977 where he helped excavate a portion of the early microblade assemblages at the site. His final published paper (Science 1979) was in part based on this work. Through the years I came to know Carl Borden quite well.

Charles Edward Borden was born in New York City on May 15, 1905. His father died while he was still an infant, and his mother took him to Germany where she had relatives who would help support them. He grew up there and remained until he was 22 years old when he discovered, quite by accident, that he was bom in the United States. The American Embassy not only confirmed that he was an American citizen, but assisted him in obtaining a job on a ship which took him from Germany to the United States. Although he emigrated to Canada in 1939, he did not become a Canadian citizen until 1972. Uppermost in his mind as the reason for this long delay, was the loyalty he felt to the United States for their assistance in his removal from a war-impoverished Germany.

He entered the University of California at Los Angeles and, majoring in German, received his A.B. in 1932; he earned an M.A. in 1933 and a Ph.D. in 1937 from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1939 he accepted an appointment as an assistant professor of German at the University of British Columbia after teaching for a short period at Reed College in Portland. While at U.C.L.A. he married his first wife, Alice who died in 1971, and they have two sons, John and Keith. He married his second wife, Hala, in 1976.

Carl Borden's archaeological work began in 1945 when he excavated a small inland site near his home at Point Grey from which he recovered several bone awls and nothing more. He then turned to the extensive shell middens in the same locality, excavating at the Point Grey, Marpole, Locamo Beach and Musqueam sites. Ema Gunther obtained research money for him from the Agnes Anderson fund at the University of Washington to pursue excavations at the Whalen site at Point Roberts. In 1950 he published three articles on his work, and in 1951 his first synthesis of local prehistory. I once asked him why he took up local archaeological research, and he replied that he had become so frustrated with the U.B.C. library in attempting to obtain copies of original material with which to pursue Germanic studies, that he turned to archaeology, in which he had been interested since his school days in Germany when he assisted his teacher in excavating Hamburgian sites. His only published work in Germanic studies, other than his doctoral thesis on the development of German dramatic theory and practice in the 13th century, was a 1952 article entitled "The Original Model for Lessing's 'Der junge Gelehrte... in a University of California volume honoring one of his professors. His other publications are all on archaeology and are listed in the accompanying bibliography.

In 1949 he was appointed Lecturer in Archaeology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology while retaining his professorial position in German. Confronted by the sheer volume of local archaeological work needing to be done, in 1950 he attempted to shift from German into archaeology on a full time basis, but was unsuccessful in this attempt, possibly because of the strength of the British anthropological tradition and its explicit emphasis on the present and future and de-emphasis of the past. After much soul searching he was eventually convinced by the department head and the university president to undertake responsibility for archaeology in addition to retaining his full load in German. He never again attempted to develop a full academic program in archaeology, but through his several courses, field projects, and enthusiasm managed to stimulate a number of students both from U.B.C. and elsewhere into taking up the profession. In 1954 he was promoted to the rank of Professor of German, but he remained a Lecturer in Archaeology until the year he retired when he was appointed as a full Professor of Archaeology.

In 1951 and 1952 Borden turned from the coast to the interior, from pure research to the salvage archaeology in Tweedsmuir Park. This project generated his Uniform Site Designation Scheme which has been adopted in most of Canada. In 1953 he took his sabbatical in Europe and returned armed with slides of cave paintings. Work on the Skeena at Kitsumkalem, followed by the initial survey of the Libby Reservoir, took up much of 1954. The summers following, up to 1958, were filled with excavations at Beach Grove and Marpole, and with the surveys along the lower Fraser. In 1959 the work at the Milliken site and other sites near Yale began and continued for five years. The data from this project constitute Borden's most important contribution to archaeology. Field work in the following years consisted mostly of work at Musqueam, additional work at South Yale in 1970, and visits to other excavations.

Borden's contributions to archaeology are not limited to its academic aspects. He and Wilson Duff recognized the pressing need for antiquities legislation, and through their efforts the provincial legislature passed the Archaeological and Historic Sites Protection Act in 1960. In 1967 he succeeded Wilson Duff as chairman of the Archaeological Sites Advisory Board created under the provisions of this Act. It was not until the mid 70's, however, when the board finally overcame a bias toward extreme frugality, that it succeeded in establishing a provincial organization capable of coping with the needs of archaeological salvage. In 1977 a completely new act was passed, Borden resigned as chairman, and was not re-appointed to the new Provincial Heritage Board.

Borden's publications very much reflect his main interests in archaeology. Cultural-historical syntheses, preliminary field work reports, and newsletter articles constitute the overwhelming mass of his published work. His paramount interest was culture history, and grand syntheses rather than site reports became his mode from 1951 onwards. The most detailed site report he ever published was in 1953 on the Chinlac and Tweedsmuir Park excavations. He always intended to write the others but, like many of us once we discover the historical "meaning" of our finds, the descriptive and quantitative aspects become drudgery. The absence of financial assistance for anything other than field work, coupled with reluctance to release his data for analysis and description by others, contributed to the scarcity of full excavation reports. This absence has been frustrating for students and scholars attempting to critically evaluate his ideas. In 1975 I inquired as to the possibility of obtaining his Marpole material excavated between 1948 and 1957 for analysis by a doctoral student doing a thesis on Marpole culture, and was advised that I ought to know that he planned to write it up himself. Most of Borden's chronological interpretations and many of his cultural taxonomic formulations have withstood the test of comparative investigation. All, however, require full description, quantification and publication of the original data on which they are based. Possibly with this in mind, he left a fund to provide fellowships for students working on doctoral theses relating to archaeology and culture history of the Pacific Northwest.

Carl's work has been rewarded with official honours. He received the Centennial Medal for valuable service to Canada, and an honorary degree from U.B.C. He and Norman Emerson were the first recipients of the Smith-Wintemberg award by the Canadian Archaeological Association. In 1977 he received the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal. One M.A. thesis (Ellen Robinson, at Portland State University) has explicitly analyzed his contributions to Northwest archaeology. A provincial scholarship has been named after him.

Carl Borden has left us with a legacy of archaeological field data and ideas basic to the full reconstruction of B.C. prehistory. His meticulous field techniques, dedication, and overall enthusiasm for archaeology have inspired others to move forward where he left off.

Roy L. Carlson
Simon Fraser University

the photograph of Carl Borden was taken in 1959 by Roy Carlson at DjRi-3 (the Frazer Canyon site)

previously published in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology 3:233–239.