Senior Archaeologist Ontario Heritage Trust

More Pills and Potions at the Niagara Apothecary 2017

We are back at the Niagara Apothecary in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada this summer for 5 weeks (July 26 – August 25). Last summer’s dig resulted in over 8,000 artifacts recovered and 700+ visitors to the site over a ten day period. This summer’s program is all about public archaeology as a result. In partnership with the Ontario College of Pharmacists and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Historical Society and Museum, we have an enthusiastic group of volunteers assisting Ontario Heritage Trust archaeologists with continuing excavations in the rear yard of the Apothecary. They will be excavating, cleaning artifacts and assisting with public engagement at the site.


We recently installed a small exhibit within the Apothecary showing the results of last year’s excavations and some of the artifacts that were recovered. Last summer, we almost completed excavation of a pit feature first partially excavated in 1988. Perhaps fortuitously, there is still a bit more of this feature we will be excavating this year. The large quantity of pharmaceutical glass recovered in 1988 and 2016 has indicated that this pit contained over 130 glass containers which at one point in time were within the Apothecary. The results from residue analysis testing indicated that we had several bottles containing antacids, as well as powdered watercolor paint (red). The most interesting result we were waiting for was related to a glass vial that was packed full of pills. Whatever active ingredient it contained originally, had dissipated but it appears as we suspected, that they were homeopathic remedies.

This season, we will be exploring other areas in this small rear yard to determine the location of former structures. Historically, this lot held three buildings. The first building was constructed c. 1810 and was destroyed during the War of 1812 on December 10, 1813 . Once gone, a building was constructed in the 1830s on the corner which is today, the Niagara Apothecary. A second building stood to its rear fronting onto King Street and one additional, somewhat smaller building stood at the northern end of the lot. Last year we found tantalising evidence of the middle building and at the north end of the lot, an 1820 coin and building rubble. Several units will be placed across the site to try to determine the integrity and nature of the deposits.

On the Day of Archaeology 2017, we are in the field with our first group of volunteers! Next week we will also have volunteers start washing artifacts. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a tourist destination and since we began this year on July 26, we have had the opportunity to engage in conversation with 92 visitors and anticipate the numbers will increase daily. So, if you are in the area, please stop by and visit us!