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Jan. 23, 2022 | Sunday
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Archeologists unearth possible 1800s hospital site on Commons
Rachel Brooks, Parks Canada archaeologist, exploring the earth on the Commons at Butler's Barracks National Historic Site. (Parks Canada photo)

Parks Canada crews have been digging at several locations around NOTL

Parks Canada has been digging up some long-lost history in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

During a field visit from Nov. 22 to Dec. 3, teams of Parks Canada archeologists dug test pits at several NOTL locations, including the site of the British Indian Department Council House and the military hospital, Butler’s Barracks, Navy Hall and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Course.

Elizabeth LeBlanc, a communications officer for Parks Canada's southwestern Ontario field unit, said they may have found a section of an old military hospital at the Commons, near the Indian Council House memorial stone, "up the path (Otter Trail) from Queen's Parade."

"During their explorations, the archeologists found what they were expecting would be present at these sites where people have lived for extended periods of time: a really small amount of material from the 1830s onward, including a couple broken clay pipes, a chin scale from a British army shako, and construction debris – broken bricks and foundation stone," she said.

"They may have found a section of the military hospital’s foundation but that will have to be confirmed through additional archeology and comparisons with original plans and drawings of the sites," LeBlanc told The Lake Report in an email.

She said Parks Canada is aware that a second British Indian Department Council House was converted into a military hospital after the British Indian Department function move most of its operations to Burlington.

The archeologists "will very likely be back on site in the spring to continue their explorations once the weather is better."

Diving into why they were doing this assessment, LeBlance said archeology and the care of cultural resources is a "fundamental" part of Parks Canada’s mandate.

"It’s an important and regular part of the work that we do, either in advance of a project or just to try and gather more information for the future," she said.

"From a practical perspective, it helps us gain a better understanding of these special places and their uses throughout history so that we can work with our visitor experience teams at the sites to interpret these stories in the future."

As far as NOTL historic sites go, Parks Canada is "fairly familiar with how the British Army used this land but we are always looking to learn more about how the people who were here before the 1800s used and connected with the landscape."

"In Canada, and even here in Niagara, we have an incredible amount of archeological and cultural resources, and they reflect the diversity of people and communities that moved through or occupied the land over thousands of years," she said.

"Through archeological investigations, research and analysis, archeologists work somewhat like detectives to uncover clues that allow them to understand the people who once inhabited the land," LeBlanc added.

She said Parks Canada's historic sites are important spaces that allow people to learn more about history in Canada, including the diverse cultural communities who make up the country, and the histories and cultures of Indigenous Peoples.

"They may be sacred spaces, archeological sites, battlefields, heritage houses, historic districts, landscapes, and much more," she noted.

"The British Indian Department Council House on the Commons between Butler’s Barracks and Fort George played an important role in consultations between the British Indian Department and their Indigenous allies," she added.

It later became a hospital and the area where it once stood now includes interpretation panels and benches "to encourage visitors to sit and reflect."

She said the site of the Council House has "special significance for Indigenous people" and that hopefully the archeological research can continue to shed light on "the depth and breadth of cultures and histories in the Niagara Region," which will help Parks Canada to share these stories in the future.

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