The Path to Pointe-aux-Vieux


A flashback to the Archaeological landscape in 2011 at the Acadian homestead site, Pointe-aux-Vieux (1728-1758).
Field crew, volunteers and visitors, from near and far, all followed this path to arrive at the Provincially designated archaeological site and stunning vista at Low Point, Prince Edward Island.


A Brazen Love for The Brae(s)


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My mind often wanders to a little white-washed stone house on a winding road. Its bright red door perpetually welcomes me home. I sit with a good book beside a roaring peat fire drinking tea. The house is in a … Continue reading

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We’ve Got the Moves Like Quixote: Tilting at a (Acadian) Windmill

Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.”

The 17th century work Don Quixote by Cervantes is a literary classic.  But what the heck does Don Quixote have to do with PEI archaeology?  Well, it was in the dog days of August last year when we decided to go looking for an Acadian windmill not that far removed from our site at Pointe-aux-Vieux.  It was noted on period maps of the area, and the landowner was more than willing to have us take a look.  Although we did not have any previous experience with windmills in an archaeological context, we thought that finding evidence of such an important community structure would be a nice addition to our work at PAV.

On a Wednesday (15th), we piled into our rental, along with all our field gear, and hit the road for the Low Point region.  After being shown to the site by the landowner, we set up a base line, after which we marked off two areas, a 5m x 1m trench parallel to the line, and a 5m x 3m grid (broken up into ten 1m x 1.5m units) perpendicular to the line.  We decided to begin with the 5m x 3m area, and after struggling to remove the sod, we struggled even more to trowel.  PEI had been experiencing a bit of a heat wave at that time, and as a result, the soil was baked almost to the point of impenetrability.  Even when it was decided to bring out the shovels to move past this baked layer, we quickly discovered that 1) the going was not much faster, and 2) that the stratigraphy of the soil was showing it to be completely sterile, reflected also by the lack of artefacts uncovered.  By the end of that first day, we were dirty, sunburned, and completely worn out.

The next day (16th), we were back at it with more shovel testing, but the situation had not improved, and with essentially nothing to show for our work (aside from blisters), it was decided to wrap up the project until a later date, when conditions might be more conducive to excavation.  We took records of our work, packed up the gear, and set our sights on the Gold Cup Day long weekend.

It might seem strange to write about a project that was less than successful, but in archaeology, as in life, you just can’t win them all.  We went looking for a windmill and came up empty (although the futile shoveling was pretty dang character-building, in my opinion).  In the end, you simply have to take an experience like this and learn from it, put it behind you, and move on to the next project.  But now I’m just rambling, so here are a few pictures to put a stop to that.

P.S. – In case you’re wondering about the title, it’s a take on the song title “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5.

Orwell Corner Historic Village, 2012

While we worked on a number of smaller projects last summer, our big one was an excavation at Orwell Corner Historic Village that spanned nearly two months, beginning in July and wrapping up at the end of August.  If you’ve never been, Orwell Corner (part of the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation’s museum system) is a fantastic site that provides a glimpse into life in a late 19th c. agricultural community on PEI, complete with general store/Victorian-era home, blacksmith’s shop, and working barns, and an awesome interpretive center that focuses on the history of agriculture in the area.  It’s a very popular site, and a must-visit if you get the chance.

The site we worked on was located behind the interpretive center, and just outside the village.  It was brought to our attention by the site director, who had been keeping his eye on it for some time.  Consisting of a large depression obscured by vegetation, it certainly looked like a promising site, and although we had only planned to spend 1-2 weeks excavating, we quickly changed our minds when we began to dig in and realized that it was chock full of artefacts.  We don’t have an exact number yet, but it’s definitely in the thousands.

At the outset, we weren’t exactly sure what we were excavating; however, subsequent archival research helped to determine that the depression was associated with a house dating back to the 1870s.  I’ll spare you the nitty gritty of the research, and say that the house was occupied by numerous families between its construction and the late 1920s, when it looks to have been abandoned.  Here is how the property appeared in Meacham’s Atlas of Prince Edward Island (1880):


Aside from the wealth of artefacts uncovered, this site proved unique in two other respects.  The first is that, for the first time, we’ve actually been able to conduct archival investigation into a site and its occupants, attaching names (no faces…yet) to it.  It might seem a strange thing to say; however, the other sites we’ve worked on (Acadian and aboriginal) simply do not present this opportunity.  We might know who the people were in a general sense, but with the site in Orwell, we were able to take things to a whole new level.  Knowing the names of past inhabitants really helped to enhance the experience, and although we didn’t find any artefacts we can attribute with confidence to particular individuals, the artefacts we’ve found have taken on added significance because of it.

The second thing that makes this site unique is its location.  Not only is it situated in a historic village, but it is also extremely accessible to the public, being just off the road on the way into the village.  As a rule, the sites we’ve worked on have tended to be in the middle of nowhere (yes, even PEI has those places), and as a result, the public has been largely cut off from archaeology.  But at Orwell, this barrier has been smashed to pieces.  In the time that we were there, there was almost always a constant stream of visitors stopping by to see what we were up to.  Many were content to watch us work and ask questions, but for those who wanted more, we managed to get a bit of a public archaeology program set up, albeit an ad hoc one.  Still, it was a great opportunity for us to present our craft to the public, which ranged in age from young children to seniors, our oldest visitor being my then 95-year-old great-grandmother.

This week, we resumed excavations at Orwell for 2013, and have opened it up to the public again.  We’ve already had people stop by to visit and try their hand at archaeology, so if you’re interested, be sure to check us out!    Here are a number of pictures (field season 2012) to give you a sense of the site and the artefacts uncovered.

Pinette 2012


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One of our objectives last field season was to complete several archaeological survey and testing projects across the Island. Here are a few snapshots from our work in Pinette. We were hoping to find the site of one of the … Continue reading

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From the Trenches: PEI Archaeology 2011-2012



Following the establishment of the Provincial Archaeology Office in 2009 and the positive work completed in 2010, the 2011-2012 year has continued to build upon these accomplishments while further establishing the role of Archaeology in the Province of Prince Edward Island.

Field Work 2011- 2012

 2011 was the third and final year of excavations at the early Acadian homestead, Pointe-aux-Vieux. This Officially designated Archaeological site yielded over 14,000 artefacts dating between 1728 and 1758. Post-excavation processing, cataloguing, and research was completed and the historical significance of the site continues to be affirmed. In 2011 a committee was formed to plan a state-of-the-art exhibition showcasing this amazing site.

The completion of the P-A-V excavation in 2011, opened the door for a variety of new, exciting projects in the 2012 field season.


 2012 Field Crew included summer students; Dawne Knockwood and Isaac Stewart from UPEI, Shalen Trask from University of Guelph, and Research Assistant Meghan Ferris. The 2012 Field Season began at the end of May with a small excavation of the Pitawelkek (Hog Island) Shell Midden site.

During July and August the crew worked on a large excavation project at McPherson Site in Orwell Corner. This late 19th Century Scottish site was rich in artefacts, with several thousand recovered in two months. This site drew widespread interest from locals and tourists and has presented exciting possibilities for public archaeology experience, interpretation, and exhibition. The Provincial Archaeology Office hopes to return to the McPherson site in 2013.

 Archaeological Testing and Surveying

 In June 2012, Archaeological testing was conducted in Pinette for signs of an early Acadian settlement. In July surveying and testing was conducted in Grand River for signs of an early Scottish Settlement. In August testing was also conducted in a field in Low Point, near P-A-V, in an attempt to identify the location of an early French windmill. While these areas are rich in history, further survey work and research is necessary to identify the exact location of any archaeological sites. Archaeological research and survey of the Brae successfully identified the area as having high potential for early 19th Century Scottish and Acadian sites. Another area identified as having high archaeological potential is Tryon.

 Research and Data Management

 Archaeological Research continues to support Duty to Consult and is also contributing to a comprehensive view of past, present, and future areas of archaeological and historical importance in this Province. Research supports current archaeological work being done in the Province. Research is also necessary for the identification of areas of archaeological significance. Newly identified and previously known sites are mapped, surveyed, and monitored. In 2011 a new mapping system, MapInfo, was selected to aid in the management and practical application of this information. MapInfo has become an integral tool for tracking, storing, organizing, and sharing Duty to Consult and Archaeological research and data.

 Community Involvement

Starting in Autumn 2011 several volunteers were trained to participate in artefact processing and cataloguing. We also hosted a student volunteer placement as part of the University of Prince Edward Island’s Public History course. Interest in volunteering with us continues to grow, and we are ever so grateful.

Public Archaeology Experience

Over the past three years the site at Pointe-Aux-Vieux had many visitors from near and far. However, the excavation at Orwell Corner this summer saw an unprecedented number of visitors. Never before has Prince Edward Island Archaeology been so visible and accessible to the Public as it was at Orwell. The site was inundated with curious tourists and locals who took great interest in the excavation. Visitors ranged in age from children to seniors. The site’s exposure to visitors prompted the installation of a temporary interpretive table with artefacts and maps set up on the edge of the site to help us educate visitors. The large amount of drop-in volunteers in the 2012 field season has created a demand for a more formal registration and scheduling of volunteers for future field seasons. The location of the excavation, in a Provincial Museum and Heritage site, led to a discovery of another sort – there are many exciting possibilities for successful Archaeological and Heritage collaborative interpretations.

 A number of factors contributed to the popularity of this site. The depression of the house we were excavating was located just off the main path at the entrance to the interpretive centre at a popular PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation site. The excavation also received media coverage which attracted many local visitors and volunteers. The site was particularly popular with tourists who were curious to learn about the history of the Province. Children and students were also very keen to see archaeology in action, and PEI history being unearthed before their eyes.

 Climate Change and Archaeology on PEI

Climate Change continues to be a threat to Archaeological sites in the Province. Our objectives for information-sharing and networking with other concerned parties (Environment, Wildlife, etc) were addressed by attending Climate Change Scenario Modeling workshops and other workshops hosted by the UPEI Centre for Climate Change Research, as well as East Coast Environmental Law conferences. Going forward, the knowledge and contacts gained from these events was helpful, in helping us accurately assess and protect Archaeological sites at risk along our coastlines.

 Presentations/ Publications / Awards

Dr. Helen Kristmanson, Provincial Archaeologist and Meghan Ferris, Research Assistant, both presented on Prince Edward Island Archaeology at the Canadian Archaeological Association annual conference in Halifax in May 2011. Several other archaeologists also presented papers on Prince Edward Island Archaeology including; Scott Buchannan; Pat Allen, on her work in Mount Stewart; Kevin Leonard, on his analysis of Archaeobotanical remains from a mid-18th century Acadian well in Greenwich National Park.

Dr. Helen Kristmanson and Crew were awarded the 2010 Gilbert Buote Award for the Excavations at Pointe-Aux-Vieux. The annual award recognizes outstanding projects in the fields of Acadian history and Prince Edward Island.

Pointe-Aux-Vieux dig inspires float

The Port Hill Women’s Institute float in the Tyne Valley parade was inspired by the dig at Pointe-Aux-Vieux!!

p.s. the float won 2nd place 🙂

photo credit to Andrew Ramsay, who scrambled to get a shot as the float went by