A Day in the Life with TRCA Archaeology

The Archaeology Team at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority is excited to participate in our first Day of Archaeology and share our unique experiences in the daily life of an archaeologist at the TRCA! The TRCA is currently the only Conservation Authority in Ontario to have its own in-house archaeology team, where we provide archaeological assessment services to all of the other business units at the TRCA. We hold an important duty as cultural heritage stewards to ensure that all cultural heritage resources, which includes built heritage, cultural heritage landscapes and archaeological resources, throughout our watersheds’ urban and rural landscapes are being responsibly managed and protected.  Our focus on preservation and avoidance of cultural heritage resources encourages the sustainability of local heritage and maintains past, present and future human connections to the land.

Our days start at the office, the beautiful Swan Lake Outdoor Education Centre and Centre for Innovation in Conservation, which we share with the Outdoor Educators from the York District School Board. Check out that view!

Our field crew will then set out to various parts of the GTA to conduct Stage 2 archaeological assessments for projects like erosion and restoration works or trail and park installations. These projects take us into great urban green spaces like the Don or Humber River Valleys, where it is very easy to forget that you are still in the middle of the City of Toronto and not up north in cottage country.

When we’re not out surveying in the field, our staff are busy processing all of the collected data and recovered artifacts, and maintaining field equipment.

Our Equipment Manager always makes sure we are never unprepared for our surveys and keeps the equipment in tip top shape!

The Geomatics team creates all of our mapping and figures, maintains our GIS database which records all of the projects we have done, and most especially, maintains the archaeological sites data within the TRCA’s jurisdiction.

We are very lucky to have many talented staff with their own specializations, who analyze and catalog each artifact that goes into our collections database.

Sometimes we need some more intensive background research, which means a trip to the Archives of Ontario or a local municipal archive! Here, our research specialist views all sorts of interesting data, such as geneology, census records, historic maps and photographs, and other information related to the past land use and owners of a property.

Our Report Writers then take all of these different components and bring them together to disseminate a clear narrative of our findings. The information must be compiled into a formal report for documentation and filing with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport, who ensures that all of the provincial archaeological licensing requirements have been fulfilled.

During lunch breaks at the office, some of our staff staff volunteer their time to work on our “Historic Garden Project”, a new staff initiative/experiment implemented this year where we put our green thumbs to the test! We are trying to grow the same kind crops that the earliest inhabitants of what is now the GTA once cultivated, such as the “Three Sisters” consisting of corn, beans and squash by early Indigenous groups, and imported crops such as radishes and turnips that were brought over by European settlers when they began to immigrate to the GTA in the 1800s.

In addition to cultural resource management, we also run the Boyd Archaeological Field School, the only credited archaeological field school for high school students in Canada, as well as engage local communities during public outreach events, where we try to connect people to their local environment and the past. This year, the field school is running during the Day of Archaeology! As a bonus, you can read about what a Day in the Life at the Boyd Archaeological Field School is like here!

Want to see even more TRCA Archaeology? Visit our website and Like the TRCA Archaeology Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to see what we’re up to all year long!


A Day in the Life at Boyd Archaeological Field School

The 40th season of the Boyd Archaeological Field School (BAFS) is almost coming to a close and we wanted to share the experiences of the field school for Day of Archaeology 2017!

BAFS is Canada’s only high school credit course where students have the opportunity to participate in real archaeological fieldwork and earn an Interdisciplinary Studies University Preparatory (IDC4U) credit during this two-week long program, offered by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) in cooperation with the York Region District School Board. Since 1975, more than 1,200 Canadian and international students have experienced archaeology through BAFS.

We have found more than one million artifacts, and documented past settlement and activity patterns at several Ontario archaeological sites over the years. This year, students are investigating the Sebastien site in Pickering, Ontario, which was once occupied by the ancestors of the Huron-Wendat First Nations.

During the field school, the students’ days alternate between excavating at the site and classroom studies. While on site, students are taught basic excavation techniques and fieldwork methodologies by TRCA Archaeology staff members, several of whom are alumni of the BAFS program themselves! Over the course of the two weeks, students are then responsible for the excavation of two one-metre by one-metre square units, where they are able to practice and apply their newfound skills under the (very close) supervision of staff and volunteers. In addition to learning about the practical aspects of “How-to-Do” archaeological fieldwork, they are also taught “How-To-Think” like an archaeologist. Students are encouraged to apply their critical thinking abilities to make inferences and exercise their interpretive skills by thinking about how objects may find their way into the ground, consider the people who left them behind, and how their lives were integrated with the artifacts themselves. This allows students to achieve a holistic perspective and interpretation of the site.

When they aren’t working on site, students engage in experiential learning projects that appeal to both academic and applied learners.  Classroom instruction includes lectures by Indigenous speakers and leading professionals, workshops and seminars, as well as hands-on experience in ancient technologies.  The students gain an understanding of the culture and contributions of Canada’s First Peoples, including current Indigenous issues and concerns.

One of the most popular components of the program are the two days spent practicing Archaic skills. Students try their hand at creating tools with only resources that were available over 5,000 years ago. For example, students can make a hunting spear, which requires them to flintknap a spearhead, cut down a small ash tree and debark it with only a stone scraper. They must also create twine and collect pine pitch for hafting the spearhead. Other fun projects include:

  • Basketry with cattails or grass and basswood
  • Fish traps and weirs
  • Collecting food and medicine
  • Fire starting kits
  • Bolas

Students who loved the course and are interested in pursuing archaeology as a career are invited to come back for a second year at BAFS as volunteers, where they have the opportunity to further their archaeological skills, continue gaining valuable field experience, and advance their cultural material education. In addition to participating in the excavation, volunteers help the staff check students’ screens to ensure no artifacts are missed, and assist students in mapping and documenting their units. On classroom days, the volunteers get to work in the lab and process the recovered artifacts. Here, they can then examine artifacts more closely and prepare them for final analysis by the staff.

BAFS has had an invaluable impact on archaeology in Ontario. Over the years, many BAFS alumni have gone on to pursue post-secondary studies, advanced degrees, and careers in archaeology, anthropology, and related fields. In 2005, BAFS was the proud recipient of the Peggi Armstrong Public Archaeology Award from the Ontario Archaeological Society.

Thanks for stopping by! If you, a friend, or know anyone who may be interested in participating in this amazing program,  Like the Boyd Archaeological Field School Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter and Instagram so you don’t miss out on registration for the 2018 session!

Curious to know what A Day in the Life is like for a TRCA Archaeologist? Read all about it here as we celebrate a Day of Archaeology!