In 2000, as part of a larger research project we began actively researching the archaeology of Grand-Pré National Historic Site. An extensive survey of historical documents produced an inventory of high potential areas, and geophysical surveys were subsequently conducted with the assistance of Mr. Duncan McNeill and the Em-38b by Geonics. The geophysical data highlighted areas where buried stones - likely the remains of ruined buildings - could be found. Beginning in 2001, these areas have been the targets of archaeological excavation.
The current archaeological research program at Grand-Pré, now in its fifth season, is a collaborative effort between The Société Promotion Grand-Pré, Parks Canada, and Saint Mary's University. The project, directed by Jonathan Fowler, is a field school that offers undergraduate students an opportunity to learn archaeological methods in a hands-on environment. To date, three geophysically anomalous areas have been probed: Operation 28 (2001) west of the memorial church, and Operation 29 (2001-2004) east of the memorial church, and Operations 30-36 (2004).
In 2001, we introduced a 1x7 m exploratory trench in the apple orchard west of the memorial church. This shallow excavation unit brought to light 1,831 artefacts and revealed a jumble of stone and brick debris. The narrow perspective offered by this single trench limits our understanding of these finds, however, the stone and brick material is likely the heavily disturbed ruin of a building. David Otto Parker recorded ruins here in the late 19th century, and identified them as belonging to the "friar's house'. We discovered no intact architectural elements, and the majority of the artefacts post-date the Acadian occupation. However, it was a common practice for people in the late 18th and 19th centuries to dump their refuse in and around the ruins of old Acadian buildings. Further excavation here may reveal deeper, Acadian layers of occupation.
Excavations on the east side of the memorial church have located the remains of at least one pre-Deportation era building, evidenced by three dry-stone foundation walls and a stone-filled cellar. These features are neatly sealed by two early 20th century fill events, the uppermost being impregnated with building debris associated with the construction of the memorial church in the 1920s.
While the upper layers of cellar fill contained artefacts from the later 18th and 19th centuries, artefacts recovered from beneath these layers date to the Acadian occupation. Architectural evidence in the form of torchis - a type of clay frequently used by the Acadians as a wall infill - also suggests that Acadians built this structure, which, judging by its dimensions, may have been a small house.
By chance, our excavations uncovered portions of a stone-lined drain leading north from the cellar. A similar drainage system was discovered during the excavation of an Acadian house at Grand-Pré in the 1970s. In our case, this find was very significant because it provides us with a sealed archaeological context with which to date the occupation of the building. Since the drain must have been built while the building was occupied, any artefacts found in the back-filled drain construction trench will date the occupation of the building. Interestingly, all of the material recovered from this drain trench dates to the pre-Deportation period.
Quantities of charcoal discovered in the lower levels of the cellar fill tell us that this building was destroyed by fire, and a very lucky find in 2004 gives us an idea of when this fire occurred. A British half-penny found in the destruction layer bears the date of 1734. Since it could not possibly have arrived here prior to that year, it tells us that the building burned sometime after 1734. Because Acadie/Nova Scotia was a British colony at that time, British money would not have been uncommon in an Acadian home.
One unique find came to light while clearing the late 18th century fill from the cellar. From the beginning, we discovered several thin fragments of blue slate, some of which had been worked. In 2003 a substantial fragment was recovered that appears to have been a used as a roofing tile. This is the first evidence of such roofing on an Acadian domestic site and, given the absence of slate roofs in Acadia in the primary sources, it is a discovery that clearly demonstrates the importance of archaeological research. Dr. Ian Spooner, a Geologist at nearby Acadia University, has tentatively identified a site on South Mountain, approximately 10 km from Grand-Pré National Historic Site, as the source of the stone. If he is correct, this stone is a witness to the Acadians' very intimate knowledge of the land.
Our preliminary results at Operation 29 cast doubts on conventional understandings of the archaeology of Grand-Pré National Historic Site. Since the late 19th century, antiquarians have identified the ruins at Operation 29 as belonging to Saint-Charles-des-Mines, the Acadian parish church in which over 400 Acadian men and boys were arrested in 1755. However, modern archaeology is now revealing quite a different picture: that of a small Acadian house destroyed by fire sometime after 1734. Four hundred people could not have fit in a building measuring only 5 meters wide.
A closer inspection of the primary documents supports the revisionist argument. Jeremiah Bancroft, one of John Winslow's junior officers during the Deportation, kept a diary of his activities at Grand-Pré in 1755. Its pages contain valuable clues about the layout of the lost Acadian community. For instance, Bancroft recorded that the wooden palisade Winslow ordered his men to build around his camp enclosed the church, the priest's house, and another small house. As originally laid out, this palisade measured 85 meters long and 45 meters wide, but Winslow subsequently ordered it enlarged to enclose the Acadian cemetery as well. The original portion took five days to construct (roughly 52 meters/day), while the addition took only one day, which provides some hint of its relative size.
Jeremiah Bancroft's diary is the skeleton key unlocking the archaeological secrets of Grand-Pré National Historic Site. Since Parks Canada archaeologists have demonstrated that Herbin's Cross marks the location of the Acadian cemetery, finding the remains of the church and the two other buildings is simply a matter of applying to this area the rectangular footprint of the palisade line Bancroft describes.
Assuming Winslow's palisade was aligned east-west along the high ground, lengthening it to 100m to account for the extension, and pinning one end just east of Herbin's Cross, the makeshift fort is still not long enough to reach even Evangeline's Well, let alone the memorial church. To contain the memorial church within its walls, John Winslow's camp would have had to be approximately 160 meters long (nearly twice its original length).
All of the tangible evidence seems to contradict the traditional belief that the memorial church stands on the foundation of the original. But if tradition is in error and this isn't Saint-Charles-des-Mines, then where is it?
Our effort to answer this question led us to the area between Evangeline's Well and Herbin's Cross. Here, in 2004, we commenced digging a series of 52 regularly spaced test pits in order to conduct a rapid archaeological survey of the entire area. The results, although preliminary, are very encouraging.
These test units yielded 2,831 artefacts, almost all of them fragmentary, but many of them datable. Since this entire area had been used as farmland by New England Planters and their descendants, the earth just beneath the sod was a plough zone where Acadian and later artefacts tumbled and mixed. In addition to the usual 17th-19th century ceramics, shards of windowpane glass, wrought iron nails, and brick fragments came to light, hinting at the presence of phantom buildings. Luckily, our test pits seem to have caught pieces of these buildings in two locations.
Architectural stone was encountered beneath the plough zone at 8B30F . Torchis, charcoal, and melted glass were associated with both structures. Some of the melted container glass recovered from 8B30J was identified as originating in France. Perhaps most interestingly, large quantities of musket balls were also recovered from both contexts (11 from 8B30F and 6 from 8B30J). This exceeds the typical numbers of musket balls found at even fully excavated Acadian domestic sites, and is almost suggestive of a military rather than a civilian occupation. Here the words of John Winslow, written shortly after his arrival at Grand-Pré in 1755, may be significant: "…Have taken up my Quarters between the Church and Chapel yard, having the Prest House [priest's house] for my own accommodation and the Church for a Place of Arms…"
Additional excavation will be undertaken here in the coming seasons.
Archaeological evidence demonstrates that Grand-Pré National Historic Site of Canada is indeed centered upon the ruins of the pre-Deportation Acadian community of Grand-Pré. Our research has identified at least one pre-1755 Acadian building (Operation 29), though its small size and the presence of a cellar suggest it is a domestic structure rather than a large parish church. This new evidence, combined with a re-examination of the primary documents, has led us to extend our excavations eastward, to the area between 'Evangeline's Well' and Herbin's Cross. These most recent digs have begun to reveal large numbers of artefacts as well as elements of previously undiscovered buildings. These ruins may be the remains of the very heart of the old Acadian village. Only time - and more research - will tell.
I would like to thank the following students, colleagues, and friends for their enormous efforts, professionalism, and good company over the years.
Danny Dyke (assistant), Bryson Crowe, Karen Drinkwater, Emilie Gilbert, John Harvey, Dylan Henderson, Sarah Kingston, Jonathan Kyte, Flannery Surrette, and Aimee Teepell. Thanks also to Nicole Brown and Andrea Richardson, who volunteered their time and skill.
Danny Dyke (assistant), Sara Carver, Manuela Dannbauer, Jasmine Folz, Jennifer Haigh, John Harvey, Lisa McIntyre, Rachel Roy, Emily Servant, Robert Shears, Flannery Surrette, Aimee Teepell, and Manaf Zora.
Joseph Cosgrove, Morgan Cowan, Erin Fletcher, Emilie Gilbert (assistant), Kelty Hillier (ninja), Michelle Hollett, Alex Howard, Natalie Ludlow, Mark Oliver, Alicia Sampson, Robert Shears (assistant), Flannery Surette (assistant), Heather Simmons,and Brian Sutherland. Thanks also to Rob Ferguson and Rebecca Duggan for lending their expertise.
2004 1st Crew
Guy Allen-Hermanson, Jennifer Appleton, James Babbitt, Danny Dyke (assistant), Mike Gibson, Emilie Gilbert (assistant), Tamara Hurley, Jill McSweeney, Katherine Power, Robert Shears (assistant) Ashleigh Smith, Flannery Surette (assistant), and Brian Sutherland.
2004 2nd Crew
Guy Allen-Hermanson, James Babbitt, Matthew Cloutier, Samantha Coutts, Sarah Cron, Naomi Doucette, Danny Dyke (assistant), Erin Fletcher, Mike Gibson, Emilie Gilbert (assistant), Thomas Peace, Robert Shears (assistant), Heather Simmons, Erica Skinner, Flannery Surette (assistant), and Aimee Teepell (assistant). Thanks to Rob Ferguson and Rebecca Duggan for their assistance over the course of the summer.
Kristin Brook, Matt Cloutier, Robyn Crook, Raella Haynes, Sadie Hoy, Brook Hoy, Tamara Hurley, Matt Munro, Katherine Power, and Ashleigh Smith.
Maxine Allen, Stephen Cormier, Cynthia Cormier, Morgan Cowan, Robyn Crook, Donna Matheson-LeFort, Jessica MacPhee, Matt Munro, Josh Nash, Steven Uloth, Alie Whalen, Cassandra Whalley,
Jennifer Arseneau, Lindsey Bernard-Snelgrove, Gavin Charles, Ahley deYoung, Kenzie Jessome, Josh Nash, Sarah Trecartin.
Teachers: Maura Gair, Heather MacDonald, John MacKinnon, Joan Perry, Den Garagan.
Glenn Arsenault, Laura deBoer, Jillian Fraser, Heather Hill, Hilary Lock, Josh Martin, Jill Robertson, Aaron Taylor, Lyne Wilson, and Regan-Heng Zhang.
Sara Basha, Tom Cromwell, Lauren Christian, Kyle Cigolotti, Jeff Cusak, Caitlin Downie, Courtney Glen, Sarah-Marie MacDonald, Grant MacNeil, Sarah McFarlane, Cranton Phillips, Emily Redden, Shannon Rhodenizer, and Aaron Taylor.
Robyn Bates, Caitlin Bell, Peter Christmas, Tim Crellin, Natalie Jess, Mariek Kocay, Holly MacDougall, Katie MacLeod, Vanessa McKillop, Shannon Owens, Gillian Oxner, Matthew Patterson, Elizabeth Thurston, and Megan Totten.
Young Canada Works: Christina Fry, Stéphane Noël, Robert Shears, and Aaron Taylor.