Review of archaeological work for the Beaubassin and Fort Lawrence national historic sites

Landscapes are rarely bereft of history. What they generally lack is a story. As archaeologists, our unique insight into the deposited soils, building remains, and the evidence of former trenches and digging, provide us with an opportunity to see and explain what happened on the land. In addition to the historical tale of settlement and occupation, there is often a story in the archaeology and our knowledge of archaeological evidence at Beaubassin and Fort Lawrence National Historic Sites is to some extent shaped by the limited and inconclusive results of minor testing and salvage projects conducted since 1968. Excepting the specific research goals of individual researchers, there has not been a systematic archaeological approach to either site. Consequently, there was no archaeological resource inventory or plan. In some cases, the excavation record is minimal or missing important data and many records have deteriorated as a result of inadequate storage. Although much of the field record has been found, the current research design addresses the known gaps in our understanding of the archaeology for these two sites. The following review outlines the  state of archaeological resource information when we began to design a multiyear archaeological research program . 

Through history and oral tradition, evidence of the Acadian presence at Beaubassin has been known since its abandonment in 1750. As early as the 1790s, descendents of the former Village were known to dig for mementos in the ruins. In the late nineteenth century, construction of the main rail line into Nova Scotia cut through the Beaubassin / Fort Lawrence area, exposing human remains associated with the Beaubassin cemetery. A 1928 history noted there were “at least 30 Acadian cellars to be found in the vicinity [of Fort Lawrence]” (Bird 1928:337-8), more specifically, in the pastures south of the rail line. Using a 1940s infrared aerial photo, and excavating through several depressions, H.L. Cameron of Acadia University interpreted the rectangular features as Acadian cellar remains. Based on a brief examination of the artifacts in 1987, an archaeologist noted “it is highly possible that [Cameron] discovered Acadian sites” (LaVoie 2003:9). When former landowners filled the Acadian cellars in the mid-1940s, (Nadon 1968:17) Cameron’s map, whether accurate or not, became the only record of these features. 

 

The first archaeological survey of the area was conducted in 1967 when Pierre Nadon surveyed Fort Lawrence Ridge to “locate physical traces of Acadian villages that had existed there before 1755″ (1968:viii). Nadon returned to Beaubassin in 1968, completing eight test excavations on private land, most of which is now owned by Parks Canada. Unfortunately, there is no report or interpretive framework for this work. 

The most thorough account of the 1968 archaeological work appears in Marcel Mousette’s (1970) Parks Canada report on the ceramics of Beaubassin. Based on ceramic evidence, he identified four definite Acadian contexts associated with depressions mapped by Cameron or in situ structural remains. Two of these were Acadian domestic homes, wooden buildings constructed on a fieldstone foundation with a wooden floor above a cellar. In a summary discussion of the archaeological and documentary evidence for pre-1755 Acadian dwellings, LaVoie noted the Beaubassin evidence attests “to the same type of construction elsewhere in Acadia” (2003:9). Both the glass and clay pipe analysis support the four Acadian contexts and provide corroborating dates for the pre-1750 site occupation.  Although dispersed or lost, much of the 1968 excavation record has been located, digitized, and incorporated within the current field record format.

 

As part of an archaeological reconnaissance of Acadian sites in the Chignecto region in 1986, Marc LaVoie tested the Beaubassin site. LaVoie tested four locations south of the rail line, identifying one Acadian refuse deposit (LaVoie 1986:16) associated with a structure identified by Nadon. The second test revealed evidence of the post-1750 British occupation while artifacts from the third test suggested a mixed site displaying evidence of both the Acadian and English occupations (LaVoie 1986:17).  

In summary, the Nadon and LaVoie tests identified undisturbed Acadian contexts and structures associated with the pre-1750 Beaubassin settlement. They confirmed to some extent Cameron’s interpretation of the depressions as abandoned Acadian cellars. Finally, they confirmed the presence of the British reoccupation and disturbance to the abandoned Beaubassin village between 1750 and 1755. 

The star-shaped footprint of Fort Lawrence NHS is located on the central portion of the 18th century Acadian village of Beaubassin. However, the extant structures, activity centres, residences, workshops, and palisade of the British military compound extend across Fort Lawrence Ridge and have been identified in the archaeological record.

When the landowner constructed a new barn in 1991 on part of the British Fort remains, the activity exposed thousands of artifacts. The Halifax Chronicle Herald reported on Nov. 5, 1991 that “musket balls, gun flints, locks, keys, dishes, wine bottles, pottery and tools [were found] on a private farm at Fort Lawrence”. The media attention led the Province of Nova Scotia to conduct an emergency salvage of the area during which 7,783 artifacts were recovered.  

When the property was offered for sale in 2004, Parks Canada undertook a small-scale archaeological testing project to locate and confirm Acadian era resources and to test the validity of Cameron’s 1940 map. The strategy aimed to avoid retesting areas already examined and to intersect as closely as possible the filled cellars of the Acadian occupation. The Cameron plan identified 38 structures on the property with 15 more located on other private lands. The Parks Canada team completed ten tests north of the rail line near Fort Lawrence and the remaining 26 archaeological tests in the middle and southern pastures in a zone most intensively occupied during the Acadian and later British eras. Sixteen tests provided solid evidence of cultural activity.    

The 2004 project uncovered two stone footers and artifacts consistent with a pre-1750 occupation. In total, 596 artifacts including architectural hardware, brick and mortar fragments, nails, window pane fragments, a glass pendant, a brass pin, pipe fragments, English and French ceramic tableware shreds, French and English wine bottle glass, buttons, and bone fragments. Excepting five creamware shreds post-dating 1760, the artifacts from the 2004 tests are uniformly associated with the first half of the 18th Century. Specifically, the collection of eleven English Staffordshire slipwares, eleven French Saintonge coarse earthenwares, two English white salt-glazed vessels, two Rhenish stoneware vessels, and both English and French wine bottle glass fragments are common indicators of Acadian material culture. In addition, there was one folded-foot wine glass stem of a type found at Beaubassin in 1968 and most common before 1745.  

 

  

Bird, Will R.

1928   A Century of Chignecto. Ryerson Press. Toronto.

Lavoie, Marc C.

1986   The Archaeological Reconnaissance of the Beaubassin Region in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – 1986. Reports in Archaeology No. 7. Council of Maritime Premiers, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

2003   Beaubassin Revisited: History and Archaeology. Proceedings of the 2003 Spring Heritage Conference, Federation of Nova Scotian Heritage, Halifax, NS.

Moussette, Marcel

1970   Analyse du Matériel Céramique du Site Acadien de Beaubassin. Travail Inédit # 117, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, National and Historic Parks Branch, Ottawa, Ontario. 

Nadon, Pierre

1968   The Isthmus of Chignecto: An Archaeological Site Survey of Acadian Settlements (1670 – 1755). Manuscript Report Series #143, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development,  National and Historic Parks Branch, Ottawa, Ontario.

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