Student Blog — A bit of Peterborough History

Mary has some facts about Peterborough to share in her blog post. — Kate

The site our field school has been excavating is so conveniently on the south of the Trent Campus, that most people wouldn’t realize that back when the house was built, this site was considered pretty close to nowhere. At that time it was built, Peterborough itself would have been a fairly young community, though the city does have a some interesting history from the 1800s and even earlier. Here are four facts about the early city of Peterborough and its history in industry!

1) Peterborough’s location was chosen because of war.

The first European settlers arrived in what would become Peterborough on 1818. A larger group ended up following in 1925. Prior to these waves of settlers, the area was well known among Indigenous populations, especially those of the Mohawk and Ojibway tribes. At that time, the region would have been known as Nogojiwanong, the place where rapids end. The specific area appears to have originally been relatively unpopulated, and was probably chosen because the War of 1812 encouraged people to settle on waterways, simply to block off American invasions. Whatever the reason, a city soon began to form. The Europeans later named where they were living after the city of Peterborough in England. Early European immigrants were almost never creative when it came to naming cities, it seems.

2) Peterborough was considered Ontario’s best lumber producer

By 1870, Peterborough was known as being the greatest producer of lumber in all of Ontario. By the point in time, the Red Mill built by Charles Perry was up and running and most of the surrounding land was well on its way to being clear cut. The house being excavated by the field school was likely inhabited by someone who worked in the mills at this time. There was a budding clump of buildings were many mill workers and needed trades and facilities for them at this time too, all associated with the running saw mill.

3) Peterborough has a place in Canada’s history of electricity

If you were to look into the history of electricity in Canada, you’d see a lot of developments dating to the 1890s and early 1900s, and often you’d come back to Niagara Falls. As it turns out, Niagara Falls generating electricity occurred well after electricity had been brought to Peterborough. At one point in time, Peterborough was known as ‘the electric city’ because it was the first Canadian city to have electric street lights. This early development occurred because the Trent-Sevren waterway easily opened the way for generating hydro electric power.

4) Along with lumber exports, Peterborough made a lot of canoes

If anyone ever plans to go to Peterborough for a trip, or lives in the area, they’ve probably heard of the Canadian Canoe Museum. One might then wonder, perhaps, why canoes get their own museum. As it turns out, making them was quite a business in the area! While the Peterborough Canoe Company wasn’t founded until 1893, making canoes began in the 1850s. A factory was later built on of the same location as the Adam Scott mill had been. If one takes a look even further forward in time, it turns out a by the 1930s a quarter of Canada’s boat making industry was located in Peterborough. Peterborough may only be ever known for a few different professions, but when it does get known, it really does go all out!

— Mary Williams

Student Blog — Mapping: Is it worth it?

Here’s Danny’s post tying together some of the things he learned during the field school and potential avenues to pursue in the future. — Kate

When asked why I pursued archaeology drawing maps is not the first thing I would normally think to answer, but after about a month of experience in the 2018 Nassau Mills field school I have truly begun to appreciate the practice of map making.

It is important to understand that the excavation of a site, in turn, destroys a site. More significantly excavation can destroy context. Every artifact possesses context. Context refers to where an artifact was found in relation to the layout of the site and in relation to other artifacts. Let’s say archaeologists find 1960’s material in a layer made up of rubble and 1850’s material in a layer of sandy soil. Without context this information, despite being accurate and true, is not very useful. The relationship between the two separate layers tells you much more than the layers themselves. But at the end of the day all the artifacts are sitting in the lab because of course the first layer had to be removed to gain access to the second so how can we preserve these relationships? Mapping of course!

A sketch map of the local area at BcGn-23. Photo: Daniel Kavanagh.
A sketch map of the local area at BcGn-23. Photo: Daniel Kavanagh.

Every time a context is determined it is recorded and mapped before being excavated. There are many methods of doing this including using a total station, triangulation, baseline measuring, etc. At first this felt tedious but after Brooke and I completed an aerial map of context 19 and I went to submit it, Prof. Connolly showed me dozens and dozens of maps and contexts forms that had been previously completed for operation area 1. It was then that I understood the importance of mapping. In one folder he possessed a plethora of information such as construction methods, occupation, chronological order of construction, material densities, cultural depth, etc. the list truly goes on and on. It was clear to me that while artifacts tell you much about who were there, understanding their contexts tells about what they did.

Mapping becomes even more necessary when conducting landscape archaeology. When trying to understand a bigger picture about a site such as land use, trade routes, movement, etc. maps allow us to see patterns that would otherwise be impossible to see.

The team using the totalstation to map out the cairns. Photo: Daniel Kavanagh.
The team using the total station to map out the cairns. Photo: Daniel Kavanagh.

I gained an appreciation for landscape archaeology on Big Island when the team mapped out 40 Cairns and we were able to see their positions on a Google map of the island. I realized how much one could learn from spatial patterns such as why and how they were they made. We can learn so much without ever getting our trowels dirty.

I’m excited for the future of archaeology because of the advancements in mapping technology. Technologies like photogrammetry or VR site recreations will help us gain more information about sites as well as preserve that knowledge and make it easily accessible.

The 2018 field school has allowed me to get my hands dirty but I think the most important thing I have learned is what makes an archaeologist an archaeologist. That is the ability to make sense of it all and to preserve that information. The best part is these skills are highly transferable to many occupations. It is something I appreciate now and something I can see myself doing. Now when I’m asked why I pursue archaeology I tell them because I’m piecing together the story of humanity and then I ask them if they want to see my maps!

— Daniel Kavanagh