Continuities and Change in Canada: Exploring Black Settlement and Experience through Archaeology

Thursday, May 16, 2019 - 9:00am to 4:30pm
  • Holly Martelle, TMHC
  • Matthew Beaudoin, TMHC
  • Joshua Dent, TMHC
  • Charles Orser Jr., TMHC
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Session Description (300 word max): 

The archaeology and study of communities, families and individuals of African descent is generally under-represented within the Canadian context. This lack of research is especially apparent when compared to the significant amount of research conducted within the United States. The differing social and political histories between the countries has resulted in a bifurcation in the emphasis on Black histories and narratives. While this bifurcation has manifested in differing emphases in general, it also masks differing social experiences of the time that would have had significant impact on the lived life of the time. For example, in many instances the 19th-century Black settlements in Canada were planned communities that were geographically distinct from earlier pre-emancipation contexts, whereas the sites in the United States often have a larger time-depth which often acts to complicate the continuity and change through that period. The purpose of this session is to bring Canadian researchers together to highlight what has been completed to-date and what are the valued research contexts/questions going forward.

09:00 AM: Introduction
  • Matthew Beaudoin - TMHC


09:10 AM: Thirty Years of African Nova Scotian Archaeology: From Occasional Project to Community Driven Partnerships
  • Catherine Cottreau-Robins - Nova Scotia Museum

It is agreed that within the field of historical archaeology in Canada, the focus on African-Canadian archaeology sites and associated subject matter has been thin. As a result, considerable challenge remains concerning building interest in the sub-discipline and promoting specialization within Canadian university graduate programs. This paper reviews efforts over 30 years in Nova Scotia to create awareness and develop interest in the African Nova Scotian past through archaeological fieldwork and research. Upon reflection and despite the challenges, much has taken place over the decades within the small province.  Research topics have ranged from the arrival of enslaved individuals through the eighteenth century, including the Black Loyalist migration, to War of 1812 Black Refugee settlement landscapes and early twentieth-century marginalized communities on the periphery of urban centers. However, it is a recent spirit of collaboration and community-driven, interdisciplinary partnership that has sparked an exciting model which holds promise to take African-Nova Scotian archaeology to the next level.  Information sharing and public engagement is critical to success.  Momentum building and guidance at the community level is key.

09:40 AM: African Diaspora is part of Black Canadians’ archaeological heritage: An example from the mound complexes of Birchtown, Nova Scotia
  • Heather MacLeod-Leslie

To understand those who have come before us, we must read the records of their lives using the clearest lens.  Archaeologies of African Diaspora in the United States, Caribbean and South America apply, as a standard theoretical framing tool and often unarticulated, an Africentric interpretive perspective – one that recognizes the rich, complex and unique cultural heritage of African Diaspora peoples as African-descended as well as Black.  Archaeological investigation of the African Diaspora in Atlantic Canada is quite nascent, with Nova Scotia as home to the greatest number of professional archaeological studies thus far.  In an effort to encourage understanding of the African Diaspora identity and membership of Black Canadians’ long history and culture here, this paper will present an Africentric interpretation of the mound complexes in Birchtown, Shelburne County, Nova Scotia.  This paper will highlight some important features and examples of Africentric archaeological study and encourage further studies to more fully explore and understand the African Diaspora heritage of Canada.

10:30 AM: Baptism Lake
  • Sara Beanlands - Boreas Heritage Consulting Inc.

Archaeology is not just about recovering artifacts and the debris of past lives, it is also about recovering meaning. When space has meaning attached, it becomes an authentic place, thus providing historical context and greater understanding of a cultural environment. Preserving the physical elements of the past is important – but so is preserving its historical memory. Yet, because many of these historical places represent aspects of heritage that are less material in nature, there is little to help us preserve the memory of meaningful places that have, over time, become seemingly empty spaces. There are numerous lakes in Nova Scotia that were traditionally used as places of baptism for local African Nova Scotian communities. Interestingly, most communities seem to have had their own baptism lake where people gathered for social and spiritual exchanges that contributed to the identity and sustainability of these communities. Indeed, these places reflect the culture, beliefs, values and world view upon which these communities were built – the very things archaeologists struggle to uncover and define.  This paper will discuss the value of mapping, recording and integrating these democratically defined public spaces into the greater archaeology of historic African Nova Scotian communities.

11:00 AM: African Canadian Community Engagement in Cultural Resource Management in Ontario
  • Holly Martelle - Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants Inc.

This paper discusses the engagement of African Canadian Descendants and communities in  archaeological projects throughout Ontario, focussing on work undertaken within the cultural resource management sector over the last 15 years. Its purpose is twofold. First, it is intended to highlight just how little has been done in African Canadian focussed archaeology in Ontario. Our need to address this significant gap in archaeological knowledge is dire given that many of the earliest areas of Black settlement have been already been destroyed or are under threat of new development. Second, using examples from projects completed primarily by Timmins Martelle Heriage Consultants Inc., it hopes to bring awareness to the wealth of opportunities available for such work that emerge from bringing archaeologists and Descendants together and harnessing their shared passions for the preservation and exploration of historical pasts.

01:40 PM: A Black Doll in an Immigrant Neighbourhood
  • Nicole Brandon - Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants

In 2015 Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants Inc., under the direction of Infrastructure Ontario, excavated a block in The Ward, an area of downtown Toronto once home to immigrants seeking a better life. Hundreds of thousands of artifacts were recovered. Among the many unique finds was the porcelain bust of a Black doll. Dolls depicting persons of colour are rare. Furthermore, such dolls were either depicted as exaggerated stereotypes of Africans or, in the case of porcelain faces, made from molds for White dolls, resulting in brown-complexioned Caucasian dolls. The Ward doll is particularly special because she is neither a grotesque caricature nor a blackface doll – she is African, and she is beautiful. The doll has become a symbol of the Black presence in 19th-century Toronto. She is a tangible link to the Black families who built a community while forging a path to the future. This exceptional artifact raises a multitude of questions about her manufacture, sale, and her place in history. This paper seeks to explore some of these questions and contextualise her story. Please note this paper contains offensive language and imagery.

02:10 PM: Forgotten and Remembered: The 19th-Century Little River Settlement in Windsor, Ontario
  • Matthew Beaudoin - TMHC

The identification of 19th-century Black settlement sites in Ontario is a difficulty process that currently relies on in-depth background research. This paper discusses the recent work conducted by TMHC on the Little River settlement near Windsor, Ontario. This community was a planned Black settlement community established by the Colored Industrial Society in the mid-to-late 19th-century. This paper discusses the archaeological work and background research that has completed to date to tease apart the sites that are associated with early Black settlers from later French settlers. This paper emphasizes some of the archaeological difficulties in identifying site affiliations based on material culture, while also discussing how the integration of the material culture and historic research can recover significant forgotten narratives.

03:00 PM: Early Black Settlements and Archaeology in Western Canada
  • Joshua Dent - Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants Inc.

The archaeology of Early Black Settlements in Ontario and the Maritimes is a growing field with important Descendant community and public archaeology components, but what about elsewhere in Canada? This paper examines the current state, or rather absence, of Black archaeology in Western Canada (British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan). Through site inventory queries, site inventory form analysis and regulatory policy review, this paper addresses the various structural factors potentially affecting the formation of this distinct field of archaeology. Black Settlements and Homestead sites, identified through historical research and queries to local experts, are presented to demonstrate that the substantive potential for this field’s expansion into Western Canada.