A Day of Archaeology at Ontario Heritage Trust

During the past week, the Trust’s archaeology crew has been running an archaeology day camp called “Adventures in Archaeology” at the Spadina Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The archaeology at this site has been ongoing since the early 1980s, and is in its thirteenth year of a public archaeology camp program.  In 2004, The Ontario Heritage Trust and the City of Toronto were awarded the Peggi Armstrong Public Archaeology Award for providing opportunities for community involvement at the Spadina Museum by the Ontario Archaeological Society.

Spadina House (Built 1866)

Spadina House (Built 1866)

The Spadina Museum is a site that is ripe for archaeological investigation. The first house on this property was built by Dr. William Warren Baldwin in 1818. Baldwin named his new home “Spadina” after the aboriginal term “Ishaspadeena”, which means “a hill or sudden rise in the land.  This first house burnt down in 1835 for reasons unknown and was rebuilt on the foundations of the first Spadina. The Baldwins held Spadina for three generations, being passed to Robert Baldwin in 1844, then to his son, William Willcocks Baldwin in 1858. In 1865, however, William Willcocks Baldwin decided to sell Spadina to James Austin, who in turn tore down and rebuilt Spadina  using the existing foundations for his new house. Spadina was inherited by Albert Austin in 1897, and it was that year that a two-storey addition added to the rear of Spadina. The early twentieth century saw additional construction projects by the Austins including the addition of a third storey.

Earlier archaeological projects at Spadina Museum were performed within the basement and around the existing structure. Recently, the archaeology conducted at this site has been focused around locating the outbuildings and structures which surrounded Spadina during the Baldwin family’s occupation. Some of the more memorable finds include silver inlaid cufflinks made with turquoise, lapis lazuli and mother-of-pearl found in 2010, as well as a pre-contact Nettling point found during the 2011 season.

The kids enrolled in this camp are aged 10-14 years old. They are given instruction on how to dig carefully, analyze, and record in an archaeological fashion.


Spadina Archaeology camper digging in the field

Spadina Archaeology camper digging in the field

The day begins by greeting the kids in the morning. The children are separated into two groups who rotate being on the field and in the lab. The names of the groups they are separated into have to do with the occupational history of the site – as one team are the “Baldwins,” the founders of the property and original occupants of the site. The second team are referred to as the “Austins,” after the builder and occupants of the structure which still stands today.

Two Spadina Archaeology campers working in their unit

Two Spadina Archaeology campers working in their unit

The children participate in digging in one by one units with a partner. They are thrilled at every find, and it is not uncommon to have more rocks than real artifacts bagged on site. When they are not digging they are actively involved in artifact processing- learning how to wash, sort, and organize artifacts that they themselves found. Earlier in the camp, the children additionally learnt how to record and map in the field: their agility with the tape-measure and Munsell over time has much improved! The assistant archaeologists who supervise them have been taking detailed notes to supplement anything the children may have missed or failed to record.

Spadina Archaeology campers washing artifacts in lab

Spadina Archaeology campers washing artifacts in lab


Camp participant measuring or determining Munsell soil color

Camp participant measuring or determining Munsell soil color

Field notes

Field notes

The children also participate in archaeological activities and workshops. Today on Archaeology Day, the children leave an artifact assemblage for future archaeologists by making a time capsule that will be buried at the end of the dig. Of course, the children have dug up quite the appetite by this point in the camp and are rewarded with dirt (Chocolate) and Gummy worm cupcakes as their final reward at the end of the dig.

Spadina Archaeology campers participating in artifact reconstruction workshop

Spadina Archaeology campers participating in artifact reconstruction workshop

This was the final day of the “Adventures in Archaeology,” camp in 2014. What the kids couldn’t finish, the field crew will finish next week.


Another year and still no dinsoaurs, gold, etc…

Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI) is a Canadian-owned company that was founded in 1980 in response to increasing public awareness of the importance of Ontario’s heritage. With offices in Toronto and Burlington, we are the largest archaeological consulting firm in Ontario. Archaeological Services Inc. provides a variety of services including both archaeological and built heritage resource/cultural landscape pre-development assessments, large-scale heritage planning studies for municipalities, as well as Stage 4 salvage excavation of archaeological sites.

Below you’ll find a photo essay showing what we are up to on this Day of Archaeology 2014. Enjoy, and from all of us at ASI, happy digging!


It’s a beautiful FRIDAY, JULY 11, 2014 at Archaeological Services Inc. in Toronto and Burlington, Ontario, Canada.


One of the ASI Partners, Robert Pihl, examining some incredible pipes from the famous Charles Garrad collection (from sites near Collingwood, Ontario).


Great work on that unit, Sarah! It’s a beauty!


It’s hard for Dr. Katie Hull (Manager of Historical Archaeology) to keep her adorable Irish Wolfhound puppy – appropriately named “Indy” –  out of the artifact box.


Here is a photo taken by one of the crane operators of part of the New Fort site at Exhibition Place, which an ASI crew is currently working on. The foundations are of the northern half of the East Enlisted Men’s Barracks – a mid-nineteenth-century barracks built by the British to compliment the garrison at Old Fort York Garrison Common. What you are seeing in this photo will eventually be covered in a glass floor leading up to the front entrance of a brand new hotel: guests of the hotel will be able to see the original foundations of the barracks!

The crane was about 80-100 feet high when the photo was taken, and the foundations shown are approximately 110 feet (30 metres) by 40 feet (12 metres). For a scale you can see the ASI crew in the lower right corner!

The foundations of the northern half of the building (far right of the photo) are quite intact: the brick walled room (left of centre) is a coal cellar and the brick structures just above and below the foundations are what is left of two brick-lined box drains. There is also a remnant brick pipe drain (immediate right of the stone foundations), however, it is currently underneath a nice thick layer of mud.

If you want to read more information on the New Fort site, which has been actively excavated by ASI for the last 6 years, visit the Featured Project section of our website:


Wes’ downtown Toronto crew hard at work excavating the New Fort site!


Nobody puts Wes’ crew in a corner… unless of course they are profiling the barracks’ walls.


Manager of Stage 1 and 2 Planning Division Projects, Bev Garner, on the phone with one of her many clients…


Senior Archaeologist and Manager of Western Environmental Assessment Projects, Dr. Andrew Riddle, answering emails on his phone. He is also the Manager of IT, so we suppose it’s quite fitting for him to be surrounded by two computers and a smartphone.


Here is our British star, Greg Pugh, working on a report when he is not out in the field on one of the richest properties we have ever worked on.


ASI’s Built Heritage and Cultural Heritage Landscape Planning Division (phew!) work so well as a team that they find it hard to do anything without one another. They all wear glasses and read historical architecture books. It’s their thing.


The perfect juxtaposition of old & new on analyst Miranda’s desk. What a tea-riffic combination!


We are pleased to announce we have hired a new faunal analyst! Jackson also takes a lot of pride when selecting his office wear.


The lab was busy today sorting through a new historical site — looks like they’ve “nailed” it.


Here are Huron-Wendat representatives Melanie Vincent and Louis Lesage examining their material culture heritage at our offices in Toronto today.


Senior Archaeologist, Dr. Bruce Welsh, can’t get enough of history. He spends his lunch hour buried in a book.

DSC_0341 copy

ASI often has the privilege of working on a single site for multiple decades, such as the one pictured here. A quick glance through our records of this site produced this gem of a photo of Martin Cooper test-pitting the site in 1989. Years later, following in his footsteps, are Andrea Carnevale and Zeeshan Abedin, directing the salvage excavation of the site along with David Robertson and Robert Pihl. Stefan Jovanovich and Andreas Vatistas, pictured here, rounded off the rest of their team. Artifact analysis and the final report for the recent work are now in the process of being completed.

This is a great, albeit humorous, example of the roles and opportunities women have in the world of archaeology– not only to learn from but to also work alongside their mentors.

Ladies, keep digging!


Cleo LOVES maps just as much as her owner, Jonas; an ASI Geomatics Specialist.


Staff archaeologist Jenna hit the 3 pm wall. Thank goodness for her comically large Toblerone. Must. Have. Chocolate. Now!


Assistant Manager of Urban Archaeology, Thanos Webb, often spends his day on the bike surveying sites downtown. He’s gotten so good at it that he can bike, review maps, make notes and drink coffee all at the same time!

photo 1

It’s a home office day for Staff Archaeologist Caitlin! Great slippers.

photo 2

Our crews have a good time together. It’s pretty obvious.

 photo 3 - Copy

A pretty great panoramic view of Amy and Erika’s historic site excavation.


Lithic Specialist Doug Todd’s sorting table. He’s got a primitive process.


Middle Archaic points that Doug has recently photographed. A lot of the material he has been looking at as of late comes from sites in Southwestern Ontario.


Check out that detail!


Chief Archaeologist and Managing Partner, Dr. Ron Williamson, examining an amputation from our excavations of the early nineteenth-century site of the first Toronto General Hospital.

Well, that was a busy day! Thanks for dropping by to see what we’ve been up to!


A Day in the Life of Archaeological Services Inc. (Ontario, Canada)

Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI) is one of the largest archaeological consulting firms in Canada with over thirty years experience in the production and dissemination of knowledge concerning our past. We have over 100 full-time and seasonal staff members and three offices – two in Toronto and one in Burlington. Our company is divided into separate divisions and here you will find little snapshots about what each field director or division at ASI is doing at the moment. Enjoy!

From Field Director Robb B:

Today I was stripping on site. Now that’s not what you think it means. We began stripping/removing the topsoil from our site today in hopes to uncover settlement patterns. We started roughly 20m away from outside the limit of the previously mapped extent of artifacts (as determined by surface artifact scatter or test unit artifact drop-off). As we move northward and closer to the main concentration of artifacts, hopefully we’ll find some sort of settlement pattern!


The Gradall machine stripping the topsoil off Robb’s site.

From the Built Heritage and Cultural Heritage Landscape Planning Division:

Built Heritage and Cultural Heritage Landscapes is busy this week with projects that are taking place in Downtown Toronto, in the farming communities near Toronto and in a very old and historic area near Niagara Falls.  The cultural heritage assessments that we do are a form of archaeology that takes place ‘above ground’. Right now, one staff member is working on cultural heritage evaluation of bridges in Eastern Ontario and even managed to find an old bridge in the middle of the bush! Another member of the team is developing a plan for salvaging architectural material from nineteenth-century properties that are slated for removal. Meanwhile, the team near Niagara Falls is exploring ways in which modern  infrastructure projects can fit into a landscape that is associated with Canadian heroine Laura Secord and which still contains a number of important historic sites. And, in downtown Toronto a team is looking at how the built heritage of the city can be best preserved; their work will contribute to the establishment of three new heritage conservation districts in the city.

_MG_8686 - Copy

The incredibly talented (and good-looking) Built Heritage team.

From The Geomatics Team:

Today Blake is overlaying historical maps of Fort York dating back to 1815 and digitizing the buildings and features in Geographic Information System (GIS). This will allow researchers to examine the changes that have occurred at the Fort overtime. It will also aid officials to better protect their hidden archaeological resources should improvements within the fort be planned.  Shady is working with CAD files provided by clients in GIS and he is mapping built heritage features and areas that have archaeological potential that could be impacted by different alternates of transit projects. The clients can take Shady’s graphics and avoid archaeologically sensitive areas and they can try to ensure that built heritage features are not negatively impacted by future development.

From Field Director Jes:

My crew and I are currently working on a stage three historic site being impacted by a service line associated with a wind turbine. The view is quite nice, with 7 foot corn on one side and a farm with animals on the other. Unfortunately, excavating here is like trying to dig through a rubber tire, but my team is tough and knows how to get things done! Below is a a shot of the crew as well as our monitors from Caldwell, Walpole Island, and Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.


Jes’s crew on site beside the cornfields.

From the Special Projects Division:

ASI is also conducting excavations at Exhibition Place in downtown Toronto at the site of the East Enlisted Men’s Barracks of the New Fort York. Eventually, the exposed foundation of the barracks will be placed under glass and featured in an entranceway to a new hotel.

In south-western Ontario, ASI is investigating dozens of new sites dating to between six and three thousand years ago in cooperation with Six Nations of the Grand.  ASI is also currently documenting the artifact assemblages recovered over the last century from a number of Huron-Wendat ossuaries prior to their return to the earth as part of a large repatriation project planned for later this fall. The Huron-Wendat Nation, the University of Toronto, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority and the Ontario Heritage Trust are jointly participating in the project.

From Field Director Wes:

Our crew (Wes, Nina, Chris, and Kristen) have been excavating the remains of three outbuildings located behind the East Enlisted Mens Barracks at the New Fort Site in Toronto. The foundations of the buildings are partially intact, as are numerous brick and clay drains associated with the buildings. The first photo shows the remains of a brick and limestone structure built overtop of an earlier limestone privy building. It also shows that we are constantly having to battle ground and rain water! The second photo shows the remains of a brick sewer drain later replaced by a clay drain, both of which are beneath the limestone foundation of what was known as a Cleaning Shed.


The foundations and drain from Wes’s site.

From one of the Material Culture Analysts:

I come into our box filled office that I share with two other historic analysts and pull out the collection that I’m currently working on. Each bag full of artifacts is labelled according to its provenience and I work provenience by provenience to lay out each bag’s contents and assign a catalogue number to every artifact, and slowly my database grows!


Typical desk of an ASI material culture analyst.

From Field Director Stacey:

We have been working on a stage three pre-contact settlement. So we have been digging a 1x1m unit every 10m in order to determine how large the site is and create a grid of units across the site.  When we find a unit with over 100 artifacts we will dig four more units one on each side, 5m away from it. So far we have found lots of pottery, fragments of chert (flint) and animal bone. We have also found evidence of the walls of the houses in the site from post moulds in the ground. Once we finish determining how large the site is, we will begin stage four, block excavation.


Stacey resting in one of her (very deep) 1×1 units!

From the Environmental Assessment Division:

Work continues along the expansion corridor of a major east-west highway north-east of the City of Toronto. Five separate crews are working on everything from test-pitting tree-covered and bug-infested lots to preliminary excavation of pre-contact villages.


One of five crews working on the transportation project east of Toronto.

Environmental Assessment teams are completing work on the sites of future wind turbines. First archaeology, then clean energy!


One of the crews excavating an area for the wind turbine project.

We are also currently excavating a portion of a fourteenth century ancestral Huron-Wendat village north of Toronto. Previously disturbed by road construction, ASI crews will be on site this summer salvaging data resulting from proposed road improvements.

From the TPOK Organizers:

On Thursday, July 25th, ASI hosted its bi-monthly lecture series, Two Pints of Knowledge (TPOK).  TPOK started at ASI two years ago and has been a resounding success in drawing large groups of ASI employees out to its bi-monthly lectures.  By covering a broad range of topics from lithics and pre-contact ceramics to present-day garbology and historic beer tasting, in an informal, company-sanctioned space, and often lubricated by a beer (or two), TPOK has created a space of learning and socialization within a corporate, CRM environment.


ASI staff and TPOK regulars listening to one of the Thursday evening talks.

The existence of such spaces is paramount to the well-being and sustained ethicacy of the CRM industry at a time when the deadlines placed upon the industry by their clients are making the existence of such events harder and harder to host.  As the last line of defense in the daily battle to preserve cultural heritage, it is critical for contract archaeologists to keep up with the developing methodological and theoretical trends happening within the discipline.  While life and bills and a full work schedule get in the way with much of the reading that goes along with the work conducted by our colleagues in university and public sector-based academia, facilitating a lecture series like TPOK allows contract archaeologists to spread much of the research work along them while bringing fellow-minded archaeologists together for open discussion.  Thus, not only does TPOK allow for training and education in a socially-friendly format, it creates an open environment so that new conceptions on how best to approach cultural heritage management can emerge.  It is our hope that TPOK continues to be a thriving success and that similar venues spring up in other CRM companies to advance the cause of heritage conservation around the world.

From Laboratory Services:

The lab is the entry point for all artifacts that are coming in from the field.  We wash, sort, organize and keep track of all the artifacts excavated by ASI crews.  Every day is different since we receive such a wide range of artifacts, everything from precontact lithic scatters to nineteenth century urban sites.  Being in the lab we have the privilege of seeing the best finds come in from the field as well as discover the secrets of seemingly mundane artifacts. Today we received four bags of artifacts from the New Fort site, more specifically from privies associated with the enlisted men’s barracks (see Wes above).

We also worked on washing, sorting, and cataloguing some artifacts that came from various sites associated with a major east-west highway northeast of the city of Toronto.  Two of these sites are villages from the pre-contact era, which include beautiful decorated pottery, pipes and stone tools.  We also washed a small 19th century historic surface collection which had some nice decorated ceramics, a pipe stem, some bottle finishes and machine made nails.  This surface collection will be analysed and catalogued in the lab, to determine if this site needs to be excavated further.

In order to keep up with all the artifacts that arrive from our 10 field crews we have a partnership with the University of Toronto’s Archaeology Centre where we rent a space in their building as well as hire archaeology students to wash artifacts. Right now they’re washing a collection from a redware pottery. Because the site includes all the refuse, misfires, and other cast-offs there’s a lot to wash!


A collection of pictures taken yesterday in the ASI lab and the U of T lab.

From the Toronto Survey Division:

The Toronto Survey division has recently completed the assessment of a project at the crossroads of two former concession roads in the Region of Peel. The subject property was comprised of a portion of a former landfill site and recently ploughed lands adjacent to a water course along the west perimeter. The former landfill portion of the site was deemed to have no remaining archaeological potential, while the ploughed lands were subject to a pedestrian survey at five metre intervals.  Despite careful scrutiny no archaeological finds were discovered.

From Field Director Rob W:

Today our group is focusing on some rolling landscape. We were all thankful for the break in the heat and the rise in the windspeed as we searched for artifacts on the hills and valleys of our long-standing project. More field crews working on site together meant time for catching up on projects from across Ontario. Nothing improves the work day like running into old friends in a familiar place.


Rob W’s crew, Kiara’s crew and Jes’ crew working together on a slope!

If you would like to learn more about our most famous projects and artifacts, visit our website here.

If you would like to learn more about us on a daily basis, follow us on Facebook, Twitter @ArchaeologyTO, and LinkedIn.

Thanks for stopping by!

In Small Things Remembered

Among other things, I chose archaeology for one primary reason – I did not want to be stuck in an office working nine to five.  Inundated with commercial television, I assumed, as many, that archaeology was all about traveling to exotic places to solve ancient mysteries of long-lost civilizations.  Archaeology, not dissimilar to the adventures of a certain Dr. Jones, was about adventure and big, spectacular discoveries.  My 18-year-old self would probably be horrified to learn that I do, in fact, work nine to five and much of the discoveries I deal with are neither ancient nor big.  In fact, now, I commute on a bicycle, work in an air conditioned Toronto office, and get to sleep in my own bed every night.  I work in commercial (aka CRM) archaeology as a report writer and a material culture analyst and I get REALLY excited if my Euro-Canadian site pre-dates 1800 AD.  Despite all this, I am happier and much more self-fulfilled than my 18-year-old self ever imagined myself being.

Today, I spent my day analyzing artifacts from a survey of an 1830s to 1850s Euro-Canadian farmhouse located about an hour’s drive north of Toronto and as far as big ancient mysteries were concerned, it was neither big nor ancient nor particularly mysterious.  In fact, it was a scatter of early-to-mid nineteenth century artifacts that was sparce by any standards.  The occupants of the site, tenants who were among the earliest settlers in the area, lived a frugal existance in a sparcely occupied landscape that did not warrant a large accumulation of material goods.  The number of tenants that occupied the site is unknown and the site’s name comes from an individual who is listed on the property only once in an 1837 directory for the area.  This is no grand Egyptian temple.

Ceramics, a bottle base, buttons, a pipe, and some nails:  A small sample of the artifacts from an early nineteenth-century Ontario farmstead.

Yet, this small site is an excellent example why archaeology, especially historical archaeology, is important.  Much of all written history was written by the privileged elites who, through their perceptions of what is significant and fundamental left to us a written record that has narrowed our vision of the past by reproducing in us what they considered important.  Archaeology challenges the bias of written history since the disposal of refuse is a universal activity done by everyone within any given society.  While the archaeological record can be obscured, manipulated, and altered, the traces of past human activities remain to be discovered and interpreted.  By that fact, the study of that refuse, archaeology, is an increadibly democratic process.

Nowhere is this more true in historical archaeology than the excavation of lowly log cabins of early European settlers.  From politics, economics, cultural norms, and the geography of the land itself, the work and social interactions of countless of individuals in the recent centuries has transformed the economic and social landscape into what is recognizeable today.  Over the years, historical archaeology has contributed to the understanding of a variety of topics including the development of modern foodways, the growth of industrial capitalism, and the institutionalization of present day socio-economic hierarchies.  Yet, these studies have started through the analysis of simple sparce farmsteads occupied by more-or-less nameless individuals such as the one I’m working on.  The lives of the people that discarded these ceramic sherds and pieces of bottle glass had a lasting effect on the sorts of lives we experience today.  These people have lived as long and as complex lives as we have and yet we do not know who these people are and have only vague ideas about their daily lives.  Their non-degradable material on farmstead and concrete-covered urban lots is the only record they left behind for archaeologists to study.  It is through this record we can know something about them and thus know something about ourselves.  Every day, the work of contract archaeologists continues to discover and document humble homes of lowly individuals and it is up to us to tell their stories and interpret our findings, we owe them that much for all the world they have created.

Pen, paper, and plastic bags in front of a computer: The necessities for analyzing artifacts.

Anatolijs Venovcevs
Historical Archaeologist
Toronto, Ontario