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Remember This? Thousands of years of buried history shows HRM needs an Archaeological Management Plan (3 photos)

Halifax Regional Municipality does not have a civic museum, let alone an archaeological museum or a plan for one

Halifax Regional Municipality has a rich and diverse history, spanning thousands of years of human occupation and experience.

People have been living in Mi'kma'ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq, since the Palaeo Period (11000 to 9000 years ago).

Halifax was settled on Mi'kmaw land in 1749 and Dartmouth was settled a year later in 1750 (although Major Ezekiel Gilman constructed a sawmill and blockhouse at the mouth of the Sawmill River on the Dartmouth side of the harbour in 1749).

The area around Lawrencetown and Chezzetcook on the Eastern Shore was occupied by Acadians even before the founding of Halifax and the 1755 Deportation.

This does not even take into account the 17th century, and earlier, European fishing stations that would have been found along our coastlines.

Modern-day Halifax and Dartmouth, in particular, are built on top of layer upon layer of history.

This cultural legacy is represented underneath the ground as archaeological heritage, a non-renewable resource consisting of artifacts, features and sites.

Dr. Jonathan Fowler, Associate Professor in the Saint Mary’s University Department of Anthropology, leads the annual Grand-Pré archaeological field school and teaches the Archaeology of Halifax course at Saint Mary’s University.  

Dr. Fowler maintains the Archaeology in Acadie Facebook page, sharing the archaeology of Halifax and Nova Scotia with enthusiasts around the world.

He sees the benefits in safeguarding and promoting the archaeology of Halifax and surrounding areas: “Archaeological heritage has enormous potential to enrich the lives of residents and visitors alike. Encounters with the past can stimulate the mind in many creative ways, and can deepen our appreciation of a place and of one another,” says Dr. Fowler.

“In Halifax, there are no special municipal archaeology bylaws or official policies governing archaeology. Therefore, archaeology in the city derives from provincial legislation, often implemented after lobbying by interested parties and dependent on bureaucratic and political good will,” as stated by Dr. Paul Erickson, Professor and Chair of the Saint Mary’s University Department of Anthropology, in the Introduction of Underground Halifax: Stories of Archaeology in the City (2005).

Too often, and generally by chance, the disturbance of archaeological resources is detected and reported to HRM and provincial authorities by concerned citizens.

In 1984, a curious passerby noticed a single, broken piece of 18th century glassware protruding from the rubble of a Hollis Street demolition site (known as Central Trust), triggering the events that lead to the first non-Federal urban archaeology project (an emergency salvage operation that could have been avoided if a proper framework had been in place) in Halifax.

Halifax Regional Municipality still lacks, and needs, an archaeological management plan, especially considering increased construction and development.

As stated in the Executive Summary of Planning for the Conservation of Archaeological Resources in the City of Kingston (2010), archaeological master plans help municipalities manage buried heritage in four main ways:

First, they tell you what has been found by providing an inventory and evaluation of known archaeological resources. Second, they tell you where undiscovered archaeological resources are most likely to be found by identifying areas of archaeological resource potential. Both of these inventories are mapped onto the City’s GIS database, making them very accessible to staff and the public alike. Third, they tell you what to do with both the known and probable places in which archaeological resources are likely to be encountered, by providing the step by step process for managing such resources. Fourth, they structure this advice within a clear, logical framework based on an historical analysis of the city and using international best practices for preparing cultural resource management plans. In this way, they are effective and robust, able to withstand challenges and suited to updating as new information emerges.

“We’ve fallen far behind even other Canadian municipalities in protecting archaeological heritage. Considering what we have to work with, and the talent and expertise of our people, Halifax should be a national leader in this area,” according to Dr. Fowler.

Dr. Erickson, in an insert to a chapter on the 1984 archaeological salvage operation at the Central Trust site (now 1801 Hollis Street), writes “Halifax has much room to expand the protection and showcasing of its rich archaeological heritage. Municipalities around the world have enshrined archaeology as an obligatory part of urban development and encouraged new developments to incorporate archaeological features on their sites. Many municipalities promote archaeology as an attraction for tourists, sponsor their own archaeological excavations, and support their own archaeology museums. Hopefully, Halifax will follow these examples.”

Today, the Halifax Regional Municipality does not have a civic museum, let alone an archaeological museum or a plan for one. The majority of the artifacts from the collection of the former City of Dartmouth are held in storage in Burnside.

Without a proper modern facility to call home, the Dartmouth Heritage Museum Society operates out of Quaker Whaler House (built in 1786), on Ochterloney Street, and Evergreen House (built in 1867), on Newcastle Street.

An archaeological master plan would help ensure the integrity of our collective heritage and would bring HRM in line with municipalities throughout Canada. If you wish to express your support of an HRM archaeological master plan, contact Regional Council by emailing clerks@halifax.ca.

David Jones is an archaeologist and historian from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Thursdays at Noon, David has a weekly thirty minute history segment on The Rick Howe Show, NEWS 95.7. 

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