Dig­ging up his­tory

The Gananoque Reporter - - FRONT PAGE - WAYNE LOWRIE wlowrie@post­media.com

Art Shaw with the ‘bear’ of the smelter.

LYN­D­HURST – Dig deep into the in­dus­trial his­tory of this village and here’s what you’ll find: Iron slag, win­dow glass, a 1910 dime, a penny stamped with a Ma­sonic Lodge sym­bol, clay pipes, lots of nails, bits of china and ce­ram­ics – and a fish­net stock­ing.

These were a few of the 5,000 items un­cov­ered in a six-day arche­o­log­i­cal dig at the old­est in­dus­trial site in the Town­ship of Leeds and the Thou­sand Is­lands and the first iron smelter in Up­per Canada.

Work­ing with hand trow­els, the arche­o­log­i­cal ex­perts and a team of vol­un­teers dug out eight ex­ploratory pits in hopes of find­ing rem­nants of the village’s in­dus­trial past.

The first find was an easy one. The “bear” of the fur­nace, which is the molten cast iron, ore and char­coal that­would lie in the bot­tom of the smelter fur­nace, was al­ready on the sur­face. The vol­un­teers man han­dled and bock-and the hun­dreds of pounds of 206-year-old metal onto a trailer.

The vol­un­teers dug their holes five or more feet deep into the arche­o­log­i­cal site on the banks of the Lyn­d­hurst River. They were in search of the foun­da­tions of the Lans­downe Iron Smelter, which was built start­ing in 1800 and op­er­ated un­til it burned down in 1811.

Art Shaw of the town­ship’s his­tor­i­cal com­mit­tee said the dig­gers’ hunt for the foun­da­tions was thwarted by­man-sized chunks of gran­ite that had been rolled on top of the old foun­da­tion more than 100 years ago.

Why, when and how the gran­ite was placed on top of the iron smelter site are a mys­tery, said Shaw, adding that more re­search is needed. After the demise of the smelter, the site be­come home to other in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing a mill, that took ad­van­tage of the power-gen­er­a­tion prop­er­ties of the nearby falls.

The vol­un­teers man­aged to roll some of the gran­ite out of the way, only to find more boul­ders un­der­neath, Shaw said.

If the arche­ol­o­gists re­turn to the site, they will need heav­ier equip­ment to lift the gran­ite out of the way, Shaw said.

He added the his­tor­i­cal com­mit­tee’s next steps de­pend on money. Orig­i­nally, the com­mit­tee ap­plied for a Parks Canada grant to dig on both sides of the Lyn­d­hurst River: At the smelter site on pri­vate land and at the site of a forge built a few months ear­lier across the river on land that is now owned by the town­ship. The Parks Canada funds were sup­posed tomatch money raised pri­vately by the com­mit­tee.

But Shaw said Parks Canada re­fused the com­mit­tee’s ap­pli­ca­tion be­cause it doesn’t fund digs on pri­vate prop­erty. Shaw said the com­mit­tee de­cided to use the money it raised to do a dig on the pri­vate land now and make an­other ap­pli­ca­tion for a Parks Canada grant for the town­ship land in 2018. He said the com­mit­tee in­tends to fundraise over the win­ter in hopes that Parks Canada will match the money.

Aside from the foun­da­tion site, the vol­un­teers care­fully ex­tracted ar­ti­facts from the small pits. In a re­port on the dig, Shaw de­scribed the process this way:

“In most cases, dig­ging was done with small ma­son’s trow­els. Ma­te­rial was placed in pails and then screened ina swinging frame of 8mm screen, which let the fine ma­te­rial pass and caught ev­ery­thing over 8mm in size, which was then scru­ti­nized for any­thing that looked man-made.

“The keep­ers were placed in bags la­belled with the pit num­ber and the strata num­ber and sent to the lab. These in­ci­den­tals mostly in­di­cated what age each strata was as wew ent deeper.”

It was that process that led to the dis­cov­ery of the fish­net stock­ing.

“Ev­ery­body has their own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of that,” he said with a laugh.

WAYNE LOWRIE/ POST­MEDIA NET­WORK

WAYNE LOWRIE/ POST­MEDIA NET­WORK

Art Shaw with the 'bear' of the smelter.

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