Uncovering history in Manitoba


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In a presentation to the Charleswood Historical Society, Ed Fread, a senior project archeologist at WSP Canada, discussed two archeological projects conducted in Manitoba.

The focus of his presentation, which was called Archaeology in Manitoba: History Under Our Feet, was artifacts retrieved from two projects – an environmental assessment of a route for the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin outlet channels project, and a St. Andrews lock and dam project – but the information about the projects was equally interesting.

Fread explained that the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin outlet channels provide flood protection to nearby communities. Channel ways were to be built to regulate the flow through three major bodies of water and provide a solution to flooding problems. Shovel tests were done at various sites prior to excavation to evaluate the significance of the sites and to ensure artifacts would not be destroyed.

Government of Canada

When artifacts were discovered during work on restoring St. Andrews Lock and Dam, work was halted and the Peguis First Nation and Manitoba Métis Federation were brought in to monitor the project.

About a thousand artifacts – dating back 2,500 to 5,000 years – ranging from projectiles, stone tools, pottery, and copper were recovered at the 10 sites. In addition to the artifacts, a beach terrace – a rock structure for landing boats – remains of churches and homesteads and items from the fur trade trail extensively used by the Indigenous population, pre-European contact, were discovered. The project, which started in 2020, is ongoing.

The St. Andrews lock and dam project involves bringing the bridge up to code, adding an exterior pedestrian walkway, and reinforcing the dam. While the bridge has been restored, most of the operational features of the dam and lock remain unchanged since they were built in 1904. The dam is a “camere” style structure with moveable curtains made of horizontal strips of wood hinged together to control water flow. It was built so that the river from Lockport to Winnipeg could be flooded to accommodate big boats, he said.

Two large-scale, multi component sites on either side of the bridge were excavated. Extensive shovel tests were done. On the east side of the bridge, artifacts showed 3,000 to 5,000 years of continuous occupation, as well as evidence of early agriculture. Excavation at the footings of the bridge uncovered a burial site. At that point work was halted and Peguis First Nation and the Manitoba Métis Federation were brought in to monitor the project. The federal government will oversee and direct construction activities to protect this heritage site, Fread said. noted.

Pottery, bone carving, tools, a pipe, a shell (that “shouldn’t have been there”) and glass beads were among the finds, as well as a stone floor and a hearth. Evidence of a homestead from the mid-1800s was found on the northwest side of the bridge, along with such items as an axe head, pocket watch and folding knife, and a wooden barrel (which was probably used to store food or water). In total, 20,000 artifacts were recovered in two years. Work continues, with careful monitoring to protect the sensitivity of this site.

Donna Minkus

Donna Minkus
Charleswood community correspondent

Donna Minkus is a community correspondent for Charleswood.

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