Ron Williamson

Date award received: 

Have you ever imagined sharing an entire evening with Canada’s most famous archaeologists? I think most of us would agree on who would be in the room – David Boyle, Harlan I. Smith, William J. Wintemberg, Scotty MacNeish, Jim Wright, Bruce Trigger, and all of the past recipients of the Canadian Archaeological Association’s Smith-Wintemberg Award. Imagine the conversation. The Smith-Wintemberg Award is the CAA’s Nobel Prize and was created “to honour professional members of the Canadian archaeological community who have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the discipline of archaeology and our knowledge of the archaeological past of Canada”. The award is bestowed on the finest of our colleagues who would be welcomed to join a roomful of archaeology’s greats. After careful consideration of a letter of nomination and several solicited letters of support, it is my distinct pleasure to present Ron Williamson with the Smith-Wintemberg Award for 2016. Ron has made exemplary and lasting contributions to Canadian archaeology.

Ron is a Renaissance man’s archaeologist. He has made exceptional research contributions, has advanced method and theory, has trained an entire generation of archaeologists in CRM, has advocated for improved archaeological heritage conservation and Indigenous involvement in archaeology, and has disseminated the results of archaeology to the tax-paying public through award-winning books, museum displays, and films. He has truly done it all. As the nominating letter highlights “Dr. Williamson has, for more than thirty years, been a pre-eminent scholar in Canadian Archaeology, as well as a leading practitioner of Cultural Resource Management, and he has managed to be an influential ambassador in both fields, in Canada and abroad. At the same time he has made significant contributions to public education, the training of archaeology students, and the enlightenment of developers, legislators and policy-makers.“

Ron’s archaeological career began in the 1970s, completing a B.A. at Western University, doing fieldwork at the famous Draper village site and Bruce Boyd cemetery. Ron attended McGill University for both his M.A. and Ph.D. under the mentorship of Bruce Trigger, focusing on precontact Iroquoian settlement patterns. By the time he completed his Ph.D. in 1985, he had founded one of the first CRM firms in Ontario that would grow to become one of the leading CRM companies in Canada – Archaeological Research Inc. (ASI) that boasts 46 full-time staff and over 1000 projects to its credit.

Even a cursory glance at Ron’s CV will reveal the extent of his contributions to our knowledge of Canada’s past. In addition to the hundreds of technical reports produced by ASI, he is the author and editor of 16 books and monographs, and has published 70 book chapters and articles. And Ron has achieved this absolutely remarkable record from a CRM position, not from a dusty museum office or the ivy-covered halls of academia. As stated in the letter of nomination:

“Ron has made use of the opportunities that doing contract archaeology has provided, to design and conduct good, thorough and ground-breaking archaeological research that might be the envy of many pure research institutions.”

In addition to his research output, Ron has taken the archaeological discoveries and packaged them for public consumption in the form of award-winning museum displays, popular books, and documentary films for TV audiences, such as Curse of the Axe [2011] and Explosion 1812 [2012].

Not satisfied with simply completing CRM projects, engaging in research, publishing for both colleagues and the general public, Ron has been a strong advocate for increased protection of archaeological heritage and more involvement of Indigenous people in the political decision-making regarding archaeological preservation. He has served on various committees of the Ontario government, including testimony to the Ipperwash Inquiry, and has cultivated close working relationships with various First Nations, most notably the Huron-Wendat. Ron has also somehow found the time to contribute to executive and committee work for various heritage and archaeological organizations, including the Ontario Archaeological Society and the Canadian Archaeological Association.

Given his 40-year career in CRM archaeology in Ontario, his innovative research and prolific publication record, his generous involvement with archaeological organizations and Ontario government committees, and his advocacy efforts to improve protection and Indigenous control of archaeological heritage in Canada, it is my sincere pleasure to present Ron Williamson with the Smith-Wintemberg Award.