Toronto is one of the largest, most culturally diverse municipalities in North America and has a cultural history that began approximately 11,000 years ago. The archaeological sites that are the physical remains of this lengthy settlement history represent a fragile and non-renewable cultural legacy.
Protecting these sites has become increasing important since landscape change has been occurring at an ever-increasing rate. The Interim Report – A Master Plan of Archaeological Resources for the City of Toronto, August 2004 (now referred to as The City of Toronto’s Archaeological Management Plan) identifies areas of archaeological potential and requires archaeological assessments on these lands prior to development.
Archaeological Management Plan
The Archaeological Management Plan is a city-wide initiative that identifies lands that may hold archaeological resources. It uses a GIS-based mapping framework to identify areas of pre-contact and historic archaeological potential.
The Archaeological Institute of America presented the 2016 Conservation and Heritage Management Award to Heritage Preservation Services and Archaeological Services Inc. for work in developing, implementing and maintaining an Archaeological Management Plan for the City of Toronto.
Map of Archaeological Potential
The Toronto Archaeological Potential Map identifies areas of potential archaeological interest.
Featured Projects - Toronto Artifacts
Projectile Point at The Toronto General Hospital Site
This projectile point was found during the 2006-2010 excavations of the first Toronto General Hospital site at 326-358 King Street West in downtown Toronto – now home to the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Excavations were completed by Archaeological Services Inc. and were required to determine if remains of the hospital had survived. During the investigations, a number of long trenches were excavated, revealing foundations of the old hospital and its formal grounds.
The two-storey hospital opened in June of 1829 and other buildings were constructed nearby soon afterwards to care for the influx of typhus, or “ship fever,” patients – a result of the spike in Irish immigration after the potato famine in the 1840s. The excavations yielded tens of thousands of artifacts relating to the hospital, but also one object that was certainly not an early nineteenth-century Euro-Canadian belonging.
The discovery of the projectile point with the broken tip was certainly a bit of a surprise to the archaeologists working at the hospital excavation. The broken tip suggests that the point was damaged on impact, likely while flying through an animal target, and the style of the projectile point is a sign that it could be between 3,000 and 7,000 years old.
It is possible that the projectile point lay in this area after it was lost by hunters, but we will never know for certain how it ended up at the site of the Toronto General Hospital. Its discovery remains a mystery…
The Miniature Pipe at Alexandra Site
This miniature conical flared pipe was found during the 2000 archaeological excavation of the Alexandra Site in Scarborough. The image shows the pipe discovered “in situ” – which literally translates to “in position” in Latin – and is a term used by archaeologists to describe an artifact exactly where it was found.
Miniature pipes are interesting finds in that, although they are frequently found at Iroquois sites, they are too small to have functioned as real smoking pipes and are therefore interpreted as being personal charms or tokens.
The area the site was discovered was planned for a subdivision development and Toronto-based consulting firm, Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI), conducted initial investigations of the area by digging some test pits. These tests revealed a total of 249 artifacts, and the collection provided enough evidence to suggest the area was home to a rather large site. In fact, this mid- to late-fourteenth century, or 1350-1400 AD ancestral Huron-Wendat site turned out to be 2.6 hectares in size and supported up to one thousand people during the height of its occupation.
The rest of the excavations took 8 months to complete. Overall, sixteen longhouses were recorded, eleven areas of activity were documented and three waste deposits were hand-excavated. In the end, 19,645 artifacts were recovered – including the miniature pipe – and analyzed in the laboratories of ASI.
In the 1940s, archaeologists uncovered multiple burials at the site of Ganestiquiagon (also known as Bead Hill), a seventeenth-century Seneca village at the mouth of the Rouge River in Pickering, Ontario. Discovered among the burials was an assortment of glass and shell beads. According to archaeologist Dana Poulton (1988), the burials were discovered when “the children of a family who were camped in the adjacent park in the valley were digging an underground fort in the late 1930s or 1940s and discovered a human skull.”
From these burials, a total of 349 glass beads and 30 shell beads were recovered – probably belonging to garment embroidery or necklace jewellery. The glass trade beads were manufactured in Europe and traded by the Dutch, French and English to Aboriginal populations. The glass beads resemble those from Seneca Boughton Hill and Rochester Junction sites, dating to the late 1600s (Wray 1983: 45).
The shell beads included 16 thin tubular beads and 14 small white wampum (the name given to original, indigenous North American shell beads). Many of the long tubular beads showed eroded surfaces and iron staining – this suggests they came in contact with an iron object, such as a knife or axe, which may have also been buried. The shell beads were produced on the mid-Atlantic coast from marine shell for trade with Aboriginal populations. The thin tubular beads were dated to circa A.D. 1670-1687 (Sempowski 1989: 88-9).
The beads from the burial have since been repatriated and reburied. The image here is of identical beads from a non-burial context from a site that is contemporaneous with Ganestiquiagon.
Mayer, Pihl, Poulton and Associates Incorporated
1988 The Archaeology Facility Master Plan Study of the Northeast Scarborough Study Area, Volume III. Unpublished Report submitted to the City of Scarborough
Sempowski, Martha L.
1989 Fluctuations Through Time in the Use of Marine Shell at Seneca Iroquois Sites. In Proceedings of the 1986Shell Bead Conference, edited by Charles F. Hayes and Lynn Ceci, pp. 81-96. Rochester Museum and Science Center Research Records No. 20.
Wray, Charles F.
1983 Seneca Glass Trade Beads, c. A.D. 1550-1820. In Proceedings of the 1982 Glass Trade Bead Conference, edited by Charles F. Hayes, pp. 41-50. Rochester Museum and Science Center Research Records No. 16.