Parks Canada’s mandate is to protect and present Canada’s natural and cultural heritage on behalf of all Canadians. At our parks and sites—particularly our national historic sites—there is often a wealth of archaeological artifacts and materials. These, along with historic structures, buildings and landscape features, are called “cultural resources.”
In order to protect these places and their cultural resources, we first have to know and understand what’s there. What are the archaeological resources on site, and where are they located? What do those materials tell us about the site, its history and the people that lived and worked there? What restrictions or opportunities do those materials present when we consider options for conserving them and the other cultural resources on site?
How do we use this information?
These important questions inform how Parks Canada manages the resources at a site. For example, Parks Canada has begun a series of infrastructure projects at Halifax Citadel National Historic Site to restore historic structures, improve visitor safety and ensure high-quality visitor experiences. Archaeological work is being done to excavate and catalogue the resources in the areas where the construction work is planned, so that the resources can be recovered and preserved. The archaeological work helps guide Parks Canada’s restoration and renewal efforts by ensuring that areas that still have cultural resources in them are avoided during construction.
What we learn from archaeology is not only important for conservation, but also for presentation. Artifacts help us to better understand these sites, their history and the people that lived at worked there, which in turn informs the interpretation of the site for visitors. As well, some of the artifacts are put on public display or are loaned to museums and other institutions, further enhancing the visitor’s experience at the site and helping to bring the site to people who might otherwise not get a chance to see.
Current archaeological work at the Halifax Citadel
The current archaeological work Halifax Citadel National Historic Site involves archaeological tests, likely some broader excavation, and monitoring of some construction activities where testing is not feasible. The majority of the 2016 Halifax Citadel testing strategy involves small tests excavated to the construction depth and located on a linear grid system. The archaeology crew will hand excavate, with trowels and shovels, each test by stratigraphic levels – which is like eating a layer cake by layer, not by slice. All culturally significant soils are screened to recover the smallest artifacts. All artifacts are processed and inventoried, and below grade architectural and earth features (stone walls, post holes, latrines, etc.) are recorded and mapped in a geospatial database.