July: Parks Canada’s Timeless Heritage in National Parks

This year of celebration provides an opportunity to look back at some of our accomplishments, and particularly the efforts made to understand the past in our Heritage Areas over the last hundred years.

The following pages offer a glimpse at discoveriesmade in a few archaeological sites across the Parks Canada system.

A virtual sample of archaeological collections

Location of National Parks where the archaeological objects featured come from...

Map of Canada's National Parks Map of Canada's National Parks
© Parks Canada / NRCan


Banff National Park of Canada – Banff Town site

Banff town site - situated in Banff National Park of Canada - began in 1884, as the Canadian Pacific Railway was constructed through the town. The first station was at Siding 29, on the northeast edge of the present town. From here, visitors took the Tally Ho carriage up to the Banff Springs Hotel, or to one of the other hotels that quickly sprang up such as Dr. Brett’s hotel at the Banff Sanatorium, or the Hydropathic Hotsprings Hotel. Right from its very beginnings, thanks to the railway, Banff was well connected to all the industrial markets of the Victorian world, even if it was far from any major centre.

Early Banff Main Street, circa 1880 Early Banff, c. 1880
© Parks Canada / Courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies NA66 -1796
Photo of Banff Avenue looking north towards Cascade Mountain, circa 1894 Banff Avenue looking north towards Cascade Mountain, 1894
© Parks Canada / Courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies V484/NA 80-40


Torpedo soda water bottles Torpedo Soda Water Bottle
© Parks Canada

In the course of a recent waterline replacement project in the town of Banff, workers uncovered a number of small historic dumps dated to the late 1800s and very early 1900s. At the time, what is now Cougar Street was a low marshy area north of the town, and was commonly used as a nuisance grounds.

Bottles, china, butchered animal bone and lenses of charcoal briquettes were uncovered during the utility trenching. The Parks Canada archaeologists from the Calgary branch of the Western and Northern Service Centre monitored the work.

The artifacts identified include china from Britain and France, patent medicines and food bottles from Montreal and the eastern United States, toiletry bottles from Paris, and porcelain bowls. Several torpedo soda water bottles were present; this example was made in a two-piece mould, with an applied finish (lip).



Banff National Park of Canada –The Christensen Site

Photo of the Bow river and railway near the Christensen site. View of the Bow river and railway near the Christensen site.
© Parks Canada

The Christensen Site, named for the archaeologist who first recorded it in 1969, has been set aside as a Zone 1 protected area in Banff National Park of Canada. It is one of several campsites that were used repeatedly over the last 10,000 years. These sites are found in the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains, just west of Banff town site where the mountains meet the Bow River.

Threatened by erosion of the riverbank and the CPR railway which bisects the area, the site was excavated as a field school in 1991 by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Calgary. The artifacts were returned to Parks Canada in 2009, and staff at the Calgary office of the Western and Northern Service Centre has been integrating this collection with other collections from Banff National Park. The stone tools shown here reflect the range of material and artifact types typical of these camps and demonstrate influences by point styles and material types from both the plains to the east, and the intermontane plateaux to the west.

Projectile Point, Spear Quartzite Spear Point
© Parks Canada

This spear point, which was manufactured from quartzite, is of a type that archaeologists group into the Mummy Cave complex (7800 - 5400 radiocarbon years ago). This represents the earliest side-notched point style recognized in southern Alberta and is thought to have been used with an atlatl, or spear thrower.

Projectile Point, Oxbow Point Oxbow point
© Parks Canada

The smaller Oxbow point (5600 - 3000 radiocarbon years ago) is much less common in Banff, and better known from the north-western plains. It has been resharpened, and would originally have had a much longer blade.



Black Siltstone End Scaper Black end scraper
© Parks Canada

This black end scraper is made from a local silicified siltstone very common in all the Banff assemblages.

Chalcedony uniface tool Chalcedony uniface tool
© Parks Canada

This long chalcedony uniface tool is unique; made from a single long flake; it appears to be a sort of multipurpose Leatherman or the Swiss Army knife of its time, combining a drill and an assortment of worked scraping edges.



Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada

Parks Canada archaeologist presenting archaeology programme to Camp Kitchikewana participants Parks Canada archaeologist presenting archaeology programme to Camp Kitchikewana participants.
© Parks Canada

Since 1999,and through the parks’ Cultural Advisory Committee, the Ontario Service Centre archaeologists have been working closely with members of the local First Nationsat Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canadato protect Georgian Bay Islands’rich archaeological resources. This liaison has culminated in the highly successful Aboriginal Youth Education Program at Camp Kitchikewana. The YMCA has also built the archaeology programme into its spring Outdoor Education Programme. For three days each week, the archaeologists run at least one tour of the site, introducing groups of Grade 4-6 school children to the process of archaeology and the significant First Nation history of the site. The following pictures present four reproductions of precontact artifactsfound during these archaeological excavations.



Projectile Point Projectile point
© Parks Canada

This is an example of a projectile point originally manufactured from Onondaga chert, a stone found primarily in the Niagara region. The point’s morphological attributes, broad side notching and concave base, are typical of Otter Creek point types (ca. 5,500 and 5,000 radiocarbon years ago).

Crescent Shape Knife Crescent shape knife
© Parks Canada

This reproduction of a crescent shape knife was made after an original manufactured from a quartzite variety that likely derives from a Canadian Shield origin. The knife is associated to the Middle Woodland period occupation of the site of Camp Kitchikewana (2,400 –1,300 radiocarbon years ago). The exceptionally large size and exquisite craftsmanship make this knife an extremely rare specimen and a unique element of extravagant expressions typical of Hopewellian ceremonial material culture.



Smoking Pipe Smoking pipe
© Parks Canada

The smoking pipe is typical of the Middleport complex, an expression of the late stages of the Middle Iroquoian period in Ontario (700-600 radiocarbon years ago). During this time a highly evolved smoking pipe tradition was in vogue. The mixing of attributes -form and decoration-embodied on this pipe argues for the evolvement of a local Iroquoian continuum in southern Ontario.

Tiny Pot Tiny pot
© Parks Canada

This tiny pot was modeled by pinching strips of clay together. Miniature vessels served a number of functions and roles in Aboriginal contexts. Various interpretations revolve around children; this bowl might have been either fashioned by a child when learning the craft of ceramic technology or made for a child as a toy or teaching aid.



Somewhere in the Arctic

Sirmilik National Park of Canada Sirmilik National Park of Canada.
© Parks Canada

This small collection of artifacts was donated to Parks Canada in 1963. Although the lack of provenience severely limits the archaeologist’s ability to provide important contextual information about such collections, these artifacts are useful for interpretive and display purposes.

(Note that Parks Canada has recently created Sirmilik National Park of Canada on Baffin Island where similar artefacts to the ones presented here were found) Click here for more information on the cultural heritage of the park.



Projectile Point, Arctic Harpoon Dorset harpoon head
© Parks Canada
Arctic Harpoon Dorset harpoon head
© Parks Canada


The two Late Dorset harpoon heads(first and third from left) are thin and with a gouged, laterally-placed line hole; they were used for hunting small and medium size sea mammals and perhaps harpooning fish. The darker specimen is made of ivory while the lighter one is made of bone. Harpoon technology has existed in the Arctic for thousands of years. These items were produced by the Dorset people who lived in the Arctic from about AD 500 until the thirteenth century.

Arctic Handle Bone handle or Haft
© Parks Canada


This bone handle or haft that may have once held a microblade in its v-shaped groove on one end. The microblade, a small, fine cutting tool analogous to today’s razor blade, was held in place with flat support pieces and binding. Its other end was scarfed and notched for lashing to a longer handle. Similar artifacts were recovered from an Early Dorset site dating to 700 –500 BC on southern Baffin Island.



Arctic Ice Pick Thule Ice Pick
© Parks Canada

Arctic Knife Handle Thule Knife Handle
© Parks Canada


One of these ivory implements may be the bit or end of an ice pick and the other a fragment of a Thule knife handle, which is similar to specimens recovered on Baffin Island.

Arctic Bone Harpoon Head Thule Type Bone Harpoon Head
© Parks Canada


This Thule type bone harpoon head bears a tip or end blade of ferrous metal attached with a copper rivet. It has a closed socket into which the harpoon foreshaft fits and a single asymmetrical spur. Similar specimens are known from the Central Arctic. It was used to hunt small and medium size sea mammals from Thule (thirteenth century AD) to Historic times.



Grasslands National Park of Canada

TeePee Ring Tipi ring, Grasslands National Park of Canada.
© Parks Canada

With its breathtaking vistas undisturbed by the plough, Grasslands National Parkof Canada contains possibly the largest intact assemblage of precontact cultural resources on Canada’s northern Plains. For at least 10,000 years, First Nations followed a seasonal round largely dependent on the movements of bison herds. By the late 19th century, the bison were extirpated and cattle ranching and farming had come to dominate the landscape of southern Saskatchewan.

While the most recent sites are marked by the clearly visible ruins of buildings and agricultural implements, the precontact evidence is more subtle. More than 3,000 locations containing evidence of First Nations occupation have been identified in the park. These sites typically consist of tipi rings and stone piles or cairns which variously served as markers, caches, or as elements in ceremonial activities. Artifact scatters, mostly stone flakes left over from tool making and rock cracked by the heat of cooking fires are also common.

Deposited in layers over thousands of years, many of these sites record repeated use of an area, and contain clues to the subsistence resources available at the time of their occupation.



Pelican Lake Style Projectile Point Pelican Lake-style projectile point
© Parks Canada

This Pelican Lake-style projectile point(commonly known as a spear point) is 3,300-1,900 years old. These points are widely believed to be the last propelled by an atlatl or throwing stick, before the change to bow and arrow.

Scalloped Edge Stone Tool Stone tool
© Parks Canada

The scalloped edge of this stone tool was created by removing small flakes to create a sharpened cutting or scraping surface. Such tools were made quickly and easily when needed, and were often discarded when the task at hand was finished.



Terra Nova National Park of Canada

Inuit archaeological site in the Ramah Group area. Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve of Canada Inuit archeological site in the Ramah Group area.
© Parks Canada

Archaeological excavations at the Bank site in Terra Nova National Park of Canada have revealed traces of a special event that took place there sometime between 500 and 1000 years ago. Ancestors of the Beothukgathered around a large hearth (fire pit) measuring more than 7 metres long and 2 metres wide. They left behind 32 projectile pointsclustered in and around the hearth. Remarkably, this collection included 14 points made from Ramah chert; a stone that is the North American cousin of the flint, which was a preferred material by tool makers. The Ramah chert source is located more than 1000 kilometres north of the Bank site, in Torngat Mountains National Park of Canada. Other points in the collection are made from a fine-grained chert that may have come from the west coast of Newfoundland and a grey rhyolite that was obtained locally. The large number of points and the exotic cherts suggest that these objects were ceremoniously deposited around the hearth.

Projectile Points