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Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre​

33 Victoria Street North (in the town of Saugeen Shores)
Southampton, ON Canada N0H 2L0

Toll Free: 1-866-318-8889 | Phone: 519-797-2080 | Fax 519-797-2191

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River Mouth Speaks

Digital Exhibit

It is heartening when something reappears unexpectedly, or a long-forgotten story is experienced once again. The spring and summer of 2010 was truly a time of cultural rescue at the mouth of the Saugeen River in the town of Southampton. A collaborative effort undertaken by the Town of Saugeen Shores (TSS) and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) demonstrates the positive outcomes that can be achieved when our shared heritage is properly and respectfully explored. Archival and archaeological investigation has returned to life many chapters of local history that had literally been buried at the river’s mouth. Centuries of recovered stories of the Saugeen Ojibway and their ancestors will enlighten residents and visitors for generations to come. And it is rather ironic that a construction project whose installation now serves to flush “things” away was the medium for cultural rediscovery and preservation!
In 1944, seasonal Southampton resident Donald Shutt reported an “Indian” site and burial ground on the north side of the river mouth. During his early-1950s’ groundbreaking search for archaeological sites in counties that fringe lakes Erie and Huron, Tom Lee from the National Museum of Canada visited, described, and collected a sample of artifacts from the site. The site that Lee called BBv51 became registered by the provincial and federal governments as BdHi-2. Locally, knowledge of its existence was soon forgotten. On March 29, 2010, TSS and SON archaeologists encountered deeply-buried fragments of ancient stone tools, pottery vessels, and animal bone in an exploratory trench at the western end of South Rankin Street. More than a half century after initial reports of its existence, site BdHi-2 was rediscovered. Prior to the installation of the Southampton sanitary sewer pipeline, archaeologists meticulously excavated a two-metre wide trench through the section of BdHi-2 where South Rankin Street and Shore Road meet.
Both as a teacher and as Chief of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, Ralph Akiwenzie was a tireless and determined advocate for Saugeen Ojibway Nation culture. Chief Akiwenzie understood the benefits that could be derived from careful and considered archaeological investigation. He also made abundantly clear to archaeologists that such studies must be done with respect and minimal disturbance. His guidance and enthusiasm will be missed.
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Whose Home & Native Land?
The lower reaches of the Saugeen River -- including what is now the Town of Southampton, has been the focus of cultural activity for at least the past 3000 years
Government, surveyor, church, and commercial records from as early as 1805 identify who was doing what around the river mouth. During the first half of the 19th century it was the Saugeen Ojibway who were living, fishing, hunting, farming, and burying their dead. And they were hosting travellers and traders. One such visitor was the Wesleyan Methodist minister Peter Jones (Kahkewaquonaby) who, between July 22 and 25, 1829, made a stop at the mouth of the Saugeen with his party of Native converts. While there, ... I went to see an Indian burying ground. There were a number of graves lying east and west, to indicate that the departed spirits had gone in that direction. Euro-Canadian and Métis fur traders frequented the river’s mouth to barter with the resident Saugeen Ojibway. Historical accounts reveal that these traveling salesmen were but seasonal visitors who set up shop over the winter, peddled their goods, then moved on. Some returned as settlers after the area had been ceded to the Crown.
For the vast expanse of time before written records, how is it possible to know who lived at archaeological sites such as BdHi-2?
Certain types of archaeological evidence have been used; for instance, pottery, house, and settlement styles. Even diet. These, however, have proven to be unreliable. Providing greater confidence are archaeological manifestations of cultural traditions and the identification of the sources of raw materials that were used for stone tool production. Evidence from BdHi-2 has been quite revealing.
Cultures -- past and present, are defined by their traditions. Historical accounts from the 1640s onward describe a ritual involving immature white-coloured dogs that is unique to the Ojibway and other Anishinabe groups. Archaeological evidence from across the upper Great Lakes region has brought to light that this ceremonial practice is not restricted to the period of written records... or to young dogs. At BdHi-2 and other sites in what are now the counties of Bruce and Grey, the bundled and buried remains of ritually-treated immature dogs and beavers, as well as water birds, are common occurrences. This Anishinabe ritual goes back many centuries before it was first recorded by Europeans.
While bundled animal burials may be common archaeological occurrences, raw materials for making stone tools are present on all sites... and in great frequency. Most notable is chert -- a sedimentary rock composed primarily of microscopic quartz crystals. However, impurities became part of the “recipe” during its formation, producing many visually and chemically distinctive chert types. With each individual chert type having a restricted geographical range, archaeologists can reconstruct the interaction sphere of the people who used this material. Almost all of BdHi-2’s chert types come from geological deposits located in an immense area bounded by central Ohio, northern Michigan, and Grey County’s Beaver Valley. Only a miniscule amount comes from the Niagara Peninsula’s Onondaga Escarpment -- the source of massive outcrops of superior quality chert. If the varieties of chert recovered from BdHi-2 are any indication, the people at the mouth of the Saugeen River were, for millennia, interacting with groups around the Lake Huron basin. This large area included the territories of many Anishinabe groups, including the historically- recorded Ojibway/Chippewa, Odawa, Potawatomi, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, and Shawnee.
An assortment of historical and archaeological evidence convincingly demonstrates that the lower reaches of the Saugeen River have, for millennia, been part of the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway and their ancestors.
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Measuring Time
Despite only a very small section of BdHi-2 having been investigated, many cultural periods -- crossing a great span of time, have been identified at the river’s mouth
Various techniques have been used to determine the ages of the artifacts and the landscape features. Some methods provide great precision, others not so.
When could people first have lived at the river’s mouth?
BdHi-2 is perched on the first terrace overlooking the intersection of the Saugeen River with Lake Huron. The terrace lies at an elevation of 180 metres above sea level. The lake rests at 176 metres. A sequence of 15,000 years of lakeshores around the Great Lakes has been defined using radioactive carbon-14 dating. Today’s river mouth and the Lake Huron shoreline are recent creations. Well, relatively recent. Until about 500 BC, BdHi-2’s terrace would have been submerged beneath the coastal waters of Lake Huron’s immediate and higher water predecessor -- Lake Algoma. The hill that rises to the east above the BdHi-2 terrace is the shoreline bluff carved by the lake. Not until Lake Algoma began to recede to the present Lake Huron level about 2500 years ago could people have begun to live on that 180-metre terrace.
What, though, is the earliest cultural evidence?
The archaeological excavation revealed that the 180-metre terrace was, like a layer cake, composed of distinct levels. Lowest, of course, is oldest -- but how old? Artifacts, charcoal, and animal bone were recovered from the earlier, and now deeply-buried ground surface -- the “Paleosol”. While no artifact styles were recovered that could reveal its age, samples of animal bone and charcoal were submitted for carbon-14 dating. Dates ranged between AD 10 and AD 890. These dates reveal that the sand upon which the Paleosol had developed is much younger than the original Lake Algoma lakebed. After Lake Algoma’s descent began about 500 BC, it and Lake Huron periodically returned to Lake Algoma’s 180-metre level. Those advances would have obliterated any earlier stable ground surfaces and all evidence of previous cultural activity. Still, a layer containing cultural material left behind by inhabitants of the river mouth some time between the time when Jesus of Nazareth walked the Earth and the Vikings discovered Greenland is pretty old!
When else?
A profusion of datable Native- and European-made artifacts were recovered from the upper topsoil layer that is now capped by the road bed. How are they dated? If, for instance, a style of a Native-made ceramic vessel that occurs on confidently-dated sites elsewhere across the Great Lakes region is also present at BdHi-2, those dates can, with caution, be assigned to the BdHi-2 artifact and the layer from which it was found. This technique is referred to as “cross-dating” and it also works for European goods. Industrial and historical records allow many European- and Canadian-manufactured artifacts to be dated with great precision. Very occasionally an artifact is marked with its date of manufacture. Evidence for more than 1000 years of cultural activity is crammed into the relatively thin capping topsoil layer. From a small ceramic rim fragment that dates between ca. AD 600-800 to an 1899 Canadian dime, much history literally lies under foot.
Maps and historical accounts document with great chronological precision the river mouth’s most recent inhabitants and cultural activities.
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From “Indian Land” to Southampton Town Plot
Today, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) includes the communities of Saugeen First Nation #29 and Neyaashiinigmiing, or the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation #27. Anishnabekiing is their traditional homeland and that of their ancestors. Occupied continuously since the final retreat of the Laurentide ice sheet more than 12,000 years ago, the land-based extent of traditional SON territory covers an area that is roughly three times the size of Prince Edward Island. In 1836 Sir Francis Bond Head -- Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, sought the physical, cultural, and institutional separation of indigenous First Nation and immigrant Euro-Canadian populations. The goal of Upper Canada’s apartheid was to provide Euro- Canadians with access to more land and natural resources. The British Crown’s 1763 Royal Proclamation had defined the process by which tracts of First Nation lands could be transferred to Euro-Canadian immigrants. It first involved the negotiation of a treaty -- a formal agreement or contract, between the Crown and a First Nation. While the Crown considered these to be land surrenders, First Nations understood treaties as opportunities to build relationships and protect their connection with the land.
Treaty 45 1/2 (1836)
Bond Head faced resistance when he proposed that the Saugeen Ojibway abandon all their traditional territory and move to Manitoulin Island. As a compromise, Bond Head promised that if they would at least withdraw into the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula, King William IV would forever protect the Saugeen Ojibway from further encroachment by Euro- Canadian immigrants. On August 9, 1836, Treaty 451/2 transferred that part of Saugeen Ojibway territory south of the peninsula -- then known as the Saugeen “hunting grounds”, to the Crown. This included the land on the south side of the river mouth that would become the core of Southampton.
Treaty 72 (1854)
Into the 1850s, Euro-Canadian squatters and resource-pillagers continued to intrude into the unceded Saugeen Peninsula. The colonial government claimed that they were helpless to prevent these illegal encroachments. A suggested remedy was that it would be in the best interest of the Saugeen Ojibway to transfer more land to the Crown for sale to settlers. If they didn’t, the government warned, their children would be left with no resources -- natural or monetary. Over the night of October 12-13, 1854, the “surrender” of most of the Saugeen Peninsula was negotiated. This included the lands on the north side of the river mouth where the Southampton sanitary sewer system was installed in 2010 and site BdHi-2 is located. Excluded from Treaty 72 were the Saugeen, Chief’s Point, Newash (Owen Sound), Colpoy’s Bay, and Cape Croker reserves.
In the span of a single generation -- between 1836 and 1861, almost 99% of traditional Saugeen Ojibway territory was ceded to the Crown. Based on the Crown’s behaviour and broken promises, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation initiated a court action in 1994 claiming that Treaty 72 was unfair. The claim remains unresolved.
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Tradition & Innovation
With resourcefulness, creativity, and skill, the Saugeen Ojibway and their ancestors have fashioned raw materials into products for utilitarian, decorative, and ritual uses
Lithic materials possess characteristics that can serve a variety of functional and symbolic purposes. Knowledge of geology and physics -- long before they were known as “geology” and “physics”, was essential. Chert is a variety of quartz that was formed hundreds of millions of years ago from the silica skeletons of sponges and other marine animals that lived in the area’s tropical seas. It is now found as nodules and beds in the county’s bedrock. Because chert fractures in a predictable fashion, it can be chipped (also referred to as “flaking” or “knapping”) to produce cutting, drilling, scraping, and piercing tools with very sharp and strong edges. And it can be struck to produce sparks. Other sedimentary rocks -- such as catlinite, shale and siltstone, were cut, ground, and drilled to form beads, pendants, and smoking pipes. The last glaciation pushed very hard igneous and metamorphic rocks southward from the Canadian Shield. Some cobbles were used as hammerstones to make chert tools. Others were pecked and ground into chopping and woodworking tools. Still others were notched for use as netsinkers.
Deposits of clay accumulated on the bottoms of the post- glacial lakes. As lake levels dropped and watercourses carved valleys, beds of clay were exposed. By about 800 BC, three important features of clay came to be recognized by southern Ontario residents: 1. moist clay can be shaped and will retain a form when dried; 2. fire and/or heat -- typically between 600 and 1000 Celsius, permanently hardens clay; and 3. adding different materials (temper) to clay improves its natural properties and reduces shrinkage and cracking during firing. The production of ceramic containers and smoking pipes is not a simple process. It’s a delicate marriage of chemistry and pyrotechnology. If proctised by the inexperienced, the results can be explosive!
Beginning in the Middle Archaic period -- ca. 3500-2500 BC, Great Lakes groups were heating Lake Superior copper nuggets at low temperatures and then cold-hammering them into utilitarian, ornamental, and ritualistic items. With a melting point of 1083 Celsius, a sufficient amount of heat could not be produced to melt and cast native copper. With the introduction of European goods into the area in the late-16th century, a new supply of copper-based metals was introduced. Recycling was born. Endowed with the same symbolically-charged properties as native copper, European copper and brass kettle scrap was re-worked into ornamental and ritualistic items. Brass -- being harder than pure copper, was formed into projectiles. As had native copper nuggets, bars and musket balls of soft European lead were being hammered and cut into various objects. And with the introduction of low-melting point lead (327 Celsius) and pewter (170 -230 Celsius) during the 18th century brooches and decorative inlays were being cast by Great Lakes groups. A new technology made its appearance.
While animals are a source of food, they also supply an abundance of raw materials -- nothing that was killed was wasted. Animal bone and antler, and shells -- freshwater and marine, were fashioned into a variety of tools, decorative items, and ritualistic objects.
The array of technologies practiced across the millennia cannot, unfortunately, be fully appreciated. Objects made from wood, hides, and cord very rarely survive archaeologically. Even bone deteriorates. Generally, only artifacts made from the most durable materials live to tell cultural tales.
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Sustainers Of Life
Pot, bowl, kettle, basin, cauldron... a basic necessity by any name. Fragments of containers recovered from BdHi-2 come from vessels of different sizes and shapes, and are made from a variety of materials. While vessels can serve many functions, they all share one primary purpose -- to sustain life. Foods to be cooked and served. Maple sap to be reduced. Seeds, prepared foods and water to be stored and transported.
To produce ceramic bowls (14) of identical shape and size, a mechanized arm with an attached profile template is lowered on a centered ball of clay within a spinning mould. A product of the Industrial Revolution, the technique is called “jolleying”. The template forms the bowl. It is removed from the mould, air-dried, then subjected to stages of kiln-firing, an assortment of possible decorative techniques, and glazing. European-made kettles from the 16th through 18th centuries (12-13) were hand-hammered from sheet copper or brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) into the desired shape by “basin-beaters”. The mouth is trimmed and its lip rolled. Cut and folded-over brass or hammered iron lugs are then riveted to the rim to receive a wrought iron handle. Native-made vessels from the Late Woodland period -- post-ca. AD 600 (1-11), were hand-formed using the paddle and anvil technique from a mixture of clay and various tempering materials. Decorated with impressed designs while wet, they were then sun- dried and slow-fired using bark. While in southern Ontario in the early 1620s, Recollet priest Gabriel Sagard described their manufacture and appearance:
There is a great assortment of shapes and decorative techniques represented amongst the Native-made ceramic vessel fragments recovered from BdHi-2. This shouldn’t be unexpected considering that pottery was being made at the river’s mouth for more than 1000 years. The differences, however, are not exclusively stylistic changes over time. Two distinctive and coincident ceramic traditions are present -- one from the upper Great Lakes area of Michigan and Ontario; the other from south-central Ontario. With BdHi-2 being located at the interface of these geographic areas, the movement of people -- or at least ideas, is reflected in the mixed ceramic assemblage. Ceramic vessels first appeared in southern Ontario during the Early Woodland period -- ca. 800-300 BC. No pottery fragments, however, were recovered from BdHi-2’s lowest cultural layer. Its absence in the ca. AD 10-890 Paleosol is likely the consequence of only a very small section of this layer having survived in the section of the site that was excavated.
Every person throughout history has had need of one... containers are humanity’s common material thread.
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