Scratching the Itch on the Cardigan River

One of the very few problems with doing archaeological work on Prince Edward Island is that for a good 5-6 months of the year, you have to spend it indoors thanks to this terrible thing called Winter.  In Canada, it’s a time when snow flies and temperatures plummet (to people living in equatorial or sub-equatorial locales:  Yeah, I know, you guys have this season as well.  But this is the real Winter, so spare me your horror stories of “frigid” 20-degree Celsius days/nights).  Of course, Santa Claus pays a visit during this time, but that’s about the only positive thing I can think of.  Anyhow, let’s get this thing back on topic.

I suppose in a way it’s probably good for us to have to spend some time inside, or else we’d never get anything done in the way of post-excavation processing, research, and report writing.  But when you turn that corner in April and things begin to warm up a bit, you get this itch, a really annoying one, and the only way to scratch it is to hit the field.  This year, we scratched that itch with time spent down at the river – the Cardigan River, to be precise.

For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Prince Edward Island, the Cardigan River is one of three major (Canadian heritage) waterways that form the Three Rivers, along with the Montague and Brudenell rivers.  These tidal estuaries have played a significant role in the history of eastern Prince Edward Island, beginning with the first Aboriginal peoples thousands of years ago and continuing into today.

Satellite image of Prince Edward Island with the Three Rivers system circled.

Satellite image of Prince Edward Island with the Three Rivers system circled.

Close(r)-up view of the Three Rivers.

Close(r)-up view of the Three Rivers.

Because of the importance of these rivers to Island history, we decided that it might not be a bad idea to begin a systematic survey to assess their archaeological potential.  Given the size of the rivers, however, a project like this is a massive undertaking, which we knew.  But if there’s one thing we’re used to, it’s big projects (*cough* PAV *cough*).

Remember that itch I was talking about?  Well, we had it real bad back in April.  It was so bad, in fact, that on April 23 we threw caution to a brisk northeasterly wind and hit the open road for Georgetown, 10-degree Celsius reading on the thermostat be damned.  The sun was shining as we sped along the Trans Canada in our red Dodge Caravan rental, and morale was surging.  All hail being in the field!

Anyway, we had decided on a jumping-off point at the end of the Earl Power Road, on the left just before you enter Georgetown proper.  I’ll admit, it may seem like an arbitrary place to begin a survey; however, we had been tipped off to an arrowhead having been found in the vicinity, and so we thought that that would be a good place to kick things off. After a quick bite to eat, the six of us (Dr. Helen Kristmanson, Meghan Ferris, Dawne Knockwood, Smantha MacKinnon, Alicia Compton , and myself) piled out of the van, artefact bags in hand, and made our way down to the shore.  We headed ENE towards the mouth of the river and straight into a relentless wind that chilled us to the core for the nearly three hours that we surveyed.  I won’t lie, it was rather brutal, and I’ll admit my snotsicles were pretty atrocious by the end. (FYI, “snotsicles” are “snot icicles”, an unfortunate reality of the cold Canadian climate.)  Anyway, here’s a Google Earth snapshot of our travels:

Our travels on April 23.  The arrows indicate direction, obviously.  I did them up in Paint, which is why they look so childish.

Our travels on April 23. The arrows indicate direction, obviously. I did them up in Paint, which is why they look so childish.

As you can see, we started out by walking the beach along the bank, and didn’t go all that far before turning back and investigating that largish spit of land you see above, essentially a big, flat sand dune.  Along the way, we encountered quite a bit of recent detritus, but also found numerous historic artefacts such as ceramic sherds, glass, and the odd chunk of metal here and there, probably associated with these residents shown in Meacham’s 1880 Atlas of Prince Edward Island:


Unfortunately, nothing Aboriginal was found, despite our insider information.

Entirely frozen, we finished off the day by putting in at the nearest Tim Hortons (coffee shop) in Montague in an attempt to stave off hypothermia, and decided to take stock of our artefacts and write up some field notes.  We drew quite a few furtive and sideways glances, so something tells me that people in deep discussion with Ziploc bags full of odds and ends spread out over two tables and poring over maps and aerial photos isn’t a very common sight at that establishment.

Well, that was the first day in the field for 2013, and also the first day of our survey of the Three Rivers.  Despite good intentions, we were unable to continue with that particular survey work because of other commitments, but it is definitely a project that we will be resuming in the future…hopefully when it’s warmer.

And now for a photo recap.

See you in the next post!


Off-site Outreach

As most of you are already aware, last year marked our first field season in which we managed to incorporate a public archaeology experience. While in the past we had the occasional volunteer or two at our Pointe-aux-Vieux site, 2012 at Orwell Corner represented the first time our work became uber-accessible to one and all, a fact on which we capitalized (as did the general public!); however, it was not the first time we attempted to reach out and bring Prince Edward Island archaeology to the people of Prince Edward Island (and possibly beyond). You see, while we always like to engage people on-site, every so often we like to take the opportunity to seek them out off-site. To paraphrase that iconic line from Field of Dreams: Present on it, and they will come.

Well, that’s the hope anyway.

While it’s been a busy and somewhat hectic (ongoing) field season in 2013, we’ve managed to carve out more time to present our craft to the public, an activity we typically reserve for the off-season. Below is an account to date of our presentations/workshops. As you’ll see, we’ve spent quite a bit of time working with kids, and I know I don’t need to tell you that it has provided for some interesting experiences.

Prince Edward Island Provincial Heritage Fair 2013

Each May, some of the best and the brightest elementary and junior high school students on PEI gather at the Confederation Center of the Arts in Charlottetown for the Provincial Heritage Fair. What is that, you ask? Well, here’s what the Department of Tourism and Culture has to say on their website:

The Provincial Heritage Fair is a grand celebration of Canada’s heritage, in the form of student history projects. Students in Grades 5 to 9 have an opportunity to explore the history of their families, communities, province and/or country.

Anyway, this year (May 16), as in previous years, we were asked to put on just one of the many heritage-related workshops that are offered to students throughout the day. It was my first time involved with this venture, and I have to say, it was a blast. We presented to about thirty students on the basic theme of “What is Archaeology”. Essentially, we would ask them questions along the lines of “What is an artefact?”, “What is an archaeological site?”, “Why do archaeologists excavate sites?” and so on, allowing them to provide us with their own answers, after which we would then deliver a more professional answer (although to be fair, there were a lot of times when it wasn’t even needed, as kids can be really perceptive). We also included an artefact guessing game, and capped the presentation off with a workshop on how to make Mi’kmaq clay pots, giving them a chance to get their hands dirty. All in all, a tonne of fun, and illuminating for them, and for us as well.


(While making clay pots)

Student: “I’m going to go home tonight and tell my mom and dad that I learned how to make pot today!”

Me: “‘A’ pot. You’re going to tell them how you learned to make a pot. The ‘a’ is very important. Please don’t leave it out, or I’m going to get fired.”



Isaac Stewart taking students through an archaeology slideshow presentation.


Believe it or not, this photo actually captures the “learning how to make pot” moment.


Clay pots in progress.

University of Prince Edward Island Day Camp

On July 11, we participated for the first time in the Panther Academy, a summer day camp program put on by the University of Prince Edward Island. They were looking to do something with archaeology, and when we found out, we eagerly offered our services. We gave the same presentation as the heritage fair, this time to a group of slightly younger students. We weren’t sure how they would take to the material, but they were quite energetic, and relished the question-answer format, which took us a bit by surprise. Because of time constraints, we held off on the clay pot-making portion of the routine, but opened the floor to extended answers on some of our questions. Again, a good time was had by all.


1) An elaborate and epic one-sided discussion of evolution by a seven-year-old, from trilobites to dinosaurs to humans.

2) Being taught the many ways in which a shipwreck can be exposed, including – but not limited to – a beaver that dams up a river.



Meghan Ferris (back row, far left) and Isaac Stewart (back row, far right) with day campers at UPEI.

Orwell Corner Historic Village Public Archaeology Presentation

Because we’re currently into our second year at our site in Orwell Corner, we decided that it was time to get a presentation together on the work we’ve been doing and let people in on some of our findings to date. On July 30, we crashed the Community Hall in Orwell, and presented to a not-so-numerous crowd of about eleven people, taking them through our public archaeology program, as well as our research into the material culture and human history of the site. Although it wasn’t the most well attended of presentations, it was still a success, and a great opportunity for us to fine-tune our public speaking skills, as well as refine our presentation, which we hope to give again at some point.

Museum Madness 2013

This past Wednesday (August 21), we hit up the Garden of the Gulf Museum in Montague the Beautiful for Museum Madness 2013. (Fun fact: the Garden of the Gulf is the oldest museum on the Island, established in 1958.)  Back in June, we were approached by staff there about getting involved with an annual summer program called “Museum Madness”, a series of fun and informative weekly activities aimed at exposing children to history.  We used our by now tried and true presentation, taking a group of young kids between ages six and twelve through the basic aspects of archaeology. Afterwards, we took them outside the museum and taught them how to make clay pots – no marijuana jokes this time, thankfully!


Watching the transition from intense clay pot-making focus to about a dozen kids taking their clay and mashing it every which way against the brick exterior of the museum in an attempt to make cool impressions.



Isaac Stewart and Meghan Ferris presenting on archaeology, with Dawne Knockwood manning the slides.

MM2013 2

Dawne Knockwood giving a step-by-step workshop on how to make a Mi’kmaq clay pot.

See you in the next post!