Historicizing the Present: Canadian Perspectives in Late Historical and Contemporary Archaeology

Saturday, May 5, 2018 - 1:30pm to 2:50pm
Ambassador D
With increasing archaeological interest in the recent past, the archaeology of the contemporary world has developed in recent years into a legitimate subfield of archaeology which seeks to develop a material understanding of the sociopolitical and economic history of the late 20th and early 21st century. Themes such as social housing, homelessness, poverty, and exclusion, which disproportionately affect First Nations people in Canada, have emerged as particularly salient; the field also provides a unique context for thinking about heritage policies, migration, tourism, public and collaborative projects, centered on the relationship of contemporaneity between the archaeologist and her or his research community. For this session, we would like to extend an invitation to contemporary archaeologists working creatively on a Canadian topic or from a Canadian institution. Our focus is on the period between the end of the Second World War and the present, and particularly on the impact of the welfare state and subsequent rise of neoliberalism on the wellbeing of contemporary societies, and especially First Nations groups. Papers focusing on earlier topics that bear on the recent past and the present are welcome.
  • Paulina Scheck (paulina.scheck@mail.utoronto.ca), University of Toronto
  • Francisco Rivera Amaro (f.riveraamaro@gmail.com), Université de Montréal
Tentative Participants: 
  • Francisco Rivera Amaro, Université de Montréal

  • Odonyms and public art as symbolic healing spaces: an archaeological approach to contemporary materiality in the city

  • Paulina Scheck, University of Toronto

  • Honest Ed’s After Closing Time: Critique of Heritage-by-Design through the Visuality of a Contemporary Ruin

01:30 PM: Mines of Information: Recent Industrial Archaeology Projects in the Northwest Territories
  • David Finch - Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board
  • Ryan Silke - Yellowknife Historical Society
The Northwest Territories has been investigated for potential mineral resources since the 1700s. Its contemporary settler history was strongly driven by mineral extraction, with major strikes made across the north in the early 20th Century. Despite the significance of mining to territorial history and economy, the archaeological investigation of mining sites is infrequent. Few of these locations are Bordenized, much less recognized. This is due partly to the priority of remediation concerns but also likely due to the deprioritization of settler history as the territorial narrative is redefined. Nonetheless, the Northwest Territories is dotted with hundreds of locations that offer insights into the early modern industrial, commercial, and social transformation of the territory.   This presentation outlines mining-related archaeological investigations in the Northwest Territories over the past decade. It focuses on two sites in the territory’s South Slave region, the Pine Point Base Camp (JfPo-1) and the Genx Prospector Cabin (JfPo-2). Both sites relate to lead and zinc mining operations near the former community of Pine Point, with occupations spanning the years 1928 to 1951. Comment is made on the scale and nature of development, and on the environmental and social legacy of mining in the region. Lastly the paper describes the ongoing registration and recognition of industrial archaeological sites in the Northwest Territories.
01:50 PM: Odonyms, art, and the public memory of political violence: an archaeological approach to urban contemporary materiality
  • Francisco Rivera - Université de Montréal
This paper approaches urban contemporary materiality from an archaeological perspective. Canadian urban odonyms and public art referring to the Chilean dictatorship (1973-1990), are contemporary materialities that can reflect a city’s cultural and symbolic landscapes, as the materialization of intercultural relations. An archaeological reading of this urban cultural landscape therefore supports an understanding of contemporary materiality, not as an isolated artifact, but as part of a larger set of symbolic and intersubjective elements. I will explore this hypothesis: odonyms and public art that commemorate an important episode of Chilean history are "artefacts" that open a symbolic healing space for exiled Chileans in Canada. They are part of a cultural landscape that offers meaning to the experience of exile. How does contemporary materiality connect and contribute to the formation of a foreign community in a new urban environment? Contemporary materiality, as it is addressed here, is not only based on memory monumentalizing of past political references within odonyms or public art. Rather, contemporary materiality is based on the political and social relations that are established between people and symbolic landscapes in the present. An archaeological approach can help us understand these spaces and symbolic landscapes as results of different temporalities that survive in today's Canadian territory. Not only do they contribute to define the social space, they are also fundamental elements for thinking about the future.  
02:10 PM: After Closing Time: Archaeology of Honest Ed’s Display Window
  • Paulina  Scheck - University of Toronto
Honest Ed’s was a landmark bargain store in downtown Toronto between 1948 and 2016. Although it was never listed, the store had an unofficial designation as a heritage site, broadly connected to the quirky entrepreneurship and inclusive values of its founder, Ed Mirvish, and the immigrant families that formed its clientele, which was incorporated into the proposed development. Following a much-publicized closing date, with requisite tributes paid by city authorities, sales and a neighborhood party in the spirit of its founder, the building remained locked down for almost a year. This paper concerns the period when Honest Ed’s functioned as an urban ruin, in the middle of a trendy Toronto neighborhood. During this time, the building was regularly surveyed and photographed, and emphasis was placed on the display window’s transformation from a commodity space – one associated with kitsch and spectacle – to a public canvas for urban art, and impromptu community message board. Archaeology is used to create a narrative that bridges the divide between Honest Ed’s days as a store and its ruin phase. Changes to the materiality of the site caused by ruination create a new regime of visuality, where the values associated with Honest Ed’s are further elaborated, but ruination also captures emergent relationships and community values. Connections between the store’s migrant heritage and present concerns with gentrification, the Trump age and Canada’s attitude towards indigenous people, evident in the messages left on Honest Ed’s windows, are explored and a holistic heritage framework is proposed.
02:30 PM: A Fostering Environment: A Discussion of Child Rearing at a Mennonite Homestead
  • Teresa Wight - MA Candidate, University of Saskatchewan
Remnants of a Mennonite homestead near Aberdeen, Saskatchewan, inhabited by two different Mennonite families between 1904-1936, allow an opportunity to look at this ethno-religious group through their material possessions. One of the most important aspects of a household is the raising of children. Child rearing can typically only be studied indirectly through the archaeological record. Within the artifact assemblage from the Mennonite homestead, there is a small collection of children’s toys which suggests the teaching of societal roles. Another Mennonite homestead also has children’s toys in the artifact assemblage that will be compared and discussed. Few archaeological studies on raising children have been carried out in Historical Archaeology, therefore this talk will address a gap within the field. The discussion will be supplemented by anthropological theory and a historical examination of child rearing within a Mennonite context.