For the eighth straight season, a team of professional archaeologists and student interns carried out digs on Montréal’s birthplace this summer. They completely excavated six new units, covering a total area of 24 m². These units are located in the central portion of the site, along a strip separating two large areas already inventoried in this sector. These areas have now been linked up into one continuous space, making it easier to understand the spatial organization of the different features and structures on this portion of the site down through the centuries.
The 2009 results were quite positive. All sections showed the presence of well-preserved archaeological strata 3.0 m or deeper, documenting all the phases in the site’s long occupation sequence. The first documented events took place in prehistory (period I, up to 1642). Some cut stone fragments and more Native potsherds from the Late Woodland period, i.e. 1000 to 1534 AD, were discovered in 2009. Little prehistoric material has been found on the site to date, however, and there is every indication that the tip of Pointe à Callière, part of which is included in the Field School site, was occupied very infrequently during prehistoric times. Natives apparently preferred to settle on the other shore of the Little River at that time, mainly in the Place Royale sector.
The situation appears to have changed considerably in the historic period. Numerous objects, from glass beads to projectile heads fixed to metal supports, Jesuit rings and some stone pipes, all indicating a regular Native presence on the site during the 17th century.
There are also considerable quantities of animal and fish bones. Dating these occupations precisely is difficult, however. There are clues suggesting that some of them may predate the founding of Fort Ville-Marie in 1642, extending back to the days when, according to historical documents, the Pointe à Callière site was used as a meeting and trading place by Natives and Europeans. For instance, there were the long periods spent here by Champlain and his men in 1603 and 1611, accompanied by large groups of Natives. The fact remains, nonetheless, that most of the material associated with Native occupations has been unearthed in the archaeological strata dating from the Fort Ville-Marie period. This points to the co-existence of a mixed population within the fort, and underscores the important role played by Natives in the founding of the Montréal colony and its first decades of existence.
Many structures and features first unearthed in 2009 or on which work continued in 2009 date from the days of Fort Ville-Marie (period II, 1642-1688). A stone masonry structure (structure ST-44) whose remains cut across the northern portion of the dig site is the most impressive feature. To date, 2.4 metres of the structure have been revealed. It consists of a main body measuring 80 cm across, doubled in width by a low wall 1.5 m long at its eastern end, arranged symmetrically on either side of the axis of the main wall.
Photo: masonry (structure ST-44)
We know that the masonry cannot continue very far westward, since the work done in 2008 found no trace of it in the adjacent dig sectors. We also assume that there is a second low transverse wall across the end of the part of the structure that remains hidden, which would give it a capital I shape when seen from above. A second masonry structure with similar characteristics (structure ST-56) was found in 2006 in the southern portion of the site, where the outdoor yard is now. The two structures, about ten metres apart, are parallel, and their visible tips are perfectly aligned. So everything suggests that there is a direct link between the two, and that they were part of a structure whose specific purpose has yet to be determined. Note that structure ST-56 was totally isolated, whereas masonry structure ST-44 unearthed in 2009 is part of other remains and links them together. The structure continues eastward with a trench as wide as the transversal wall, i.e. 1.5 m, extending all the way to a large pit corresponding to the base of a wooden building (structure ST-40). To the west, another trench connects the masonry to a second large pit, where digs have revealed the presence of a standing post (structure ST-62) and many scattered pieces of wood. This entire sector of the site thus shows a continuous line of structures that were part of Fort Ville-Marie.
2009 digs (cont’d)
A fence consisting of a row of closely spaced pickets, including one long segment unearthed in 2009 (structure ST-42), runs along the south side of the stone masonry structure (ST-44) and the various associated pits for a distance of about 2.5 metres. The fence ends at the tip of the pit from building ST-40, on the east side, while on the west side it deviates twice to get around pit ST-62.
Photo: fence (structure ST-42)
Separate areas where activities took place can be seen on either side of the fence. To the north, the corridor defined by fence ST-42 and wall ST-44 appears to be a path. The only archaeological deposit associated with this area corresponds to the upper horizon of the natural soil, with almost no objects or other traces of occupancy. This suggests that this sector of the fort was not used much, or that the path was covered with a surface (stone, wood) from which the materials were recovered when it was abandoned.
The zone to the south of fence ST-42 revealed many archaeological strata with abundant and varied contents. Aside from the natural soil that forms the original surface, rough stone pavement was found in this sector, whose remains extend toward masonry structure ST-56. This season the archaeologists and interns also continued their investigations of a mound of household garbage, identified in 2006, and a broad area with discarded bones and ashes, found in most of the units excavated to date in this sector of the site. These two contexts provide the vast majority of the artifacts dating from the Fort Ville-Marie period. The activities south of the fence also left deposits of ferrous oxides, giving the soil in sub-operations 10B and 10D a bright orange hue. This may be debris from iron ore; the oxidized deposits are in fact located next to the remains of a forge, observed in 8D in connection with wall ST-56 (2007 digs). The data gathered in 2009 contribute to a better understanding of the internal layout of Fort Ville-Marie and the activities there.
The deposits dating from the times of Callière's residence (period III, 1688-1765) and Callière’s estate (period IV, 1765-1805) unearthed in 2009 are generally similar to those from the other sectors excavated on the site, and show significant continuity in spatial terms. They consist in particular of the large amount of fill dumped there when Callière’s estate was created in the late 1680s, and the upper layer of organic sediment that constitutes the occupied surface. Aside from these two deposits and their rich and varied lot of artifacts, excavations at the northernmost tip of the dig also revealed the remains of a wooden building apparently erected after the fire that destroyed Callière's residence in 1765. Only a limited part of the building site has been excavated, but the associated materials, in particular the abundant scraps of birchbark, suggest that it was a workshop used to make or repair canoes. It was part of the holdings of the Labrosse family, who were involved in the fur trade and owned the property between 1746 and 1792.
After Callière’s estate was finally dismantled in the early 19th century, three generations of commercial buildings occupied the site. The areas excavated in 2009 are located in an outdoor yard where there was no construction of any kind up until 1879, i.e. throughout periods V (1805-1842) and VI (1842-1879). During these decades, the land was raised several times, and the fill brought in each time was used as the bed for a new roadway, of different natures at different times (gravel with mortar, wood floor). The segments of these roadways excavated in 2009 now give us a better understanding of their layout and their relations with the various buildings on the site. Lastly, the investigation of the shed erected in 1879 continued. The southern part of this season’s dig area includes a long section of the shed. The data gathered mainly document the many changes made to the structure of the building; its original foundations, a series of deep posts, were replaced in 1894 by low stone walls resting on a footing of coarse concrete.
The work planned in 2010 will allow us to begin exploring the northern portion of the site, and likely lead to the discovery of new remains of structures and activity areas dating from the different periods in the long occupation sequence of the Pointe-à-Callière site.