When the lumber trade was booming in Ontario, Peterborough was a boomtown.
In the 19th century, sawmills on what would become the Trent University campus processed timber for international markets. When the lumber market collapsed those mills shut down. One was disassembled and moved, another was even sold as lumber.
The construction of a power station in the early 20th Century destroyed much of what was left of the saw mill foundations, and today there are few obvious signs that the land that is now Trent’s Symons Campus was ever a hub of industry.
Digging in: Field School teaches archaeological techniques
Look beneath the surface at the former mill site, and there’s a rich record of 19th century industrial life. For the past several years, a house near the old Nassau Mill site has been the focus of Trent’s archaeological field school.
“During the field school, students learn all kinds of skills that are central to archaeology. We teach them how to excavate, of course, but there's so much more to it than that,” says Dr. Marit Munson, associate professor in Trent’s Department of Anthropology. “Students learn how to map the site using modern technology and how to record and track their finds; that's really important, because the information about the location of the artifacts-- in other words, their context-- is absolutely critical to making sense of what happened at the site.”
Piecing it all together: the many uses of the Nassau Mill site
At its peak, the Nassau Mill was bustling. It was an industrial area with stables, houses and a boarding house for workers, an office, and blacksmiths' and carpenters' shops.
Development and construction on campus has jumbled the archaeological record. Grading for road construction pushed material around and mixed it together. 19th century ceramics can be found side-by-side with 20th century plastics, making it difficult to determine the exact sequence of events. Still, the site reveals untold stories about how people lived at the time.
“The artifacts that we recover from the site can help us learn about many different aspects of 19th Century industry-- everything from the layout and organization of mills, to the eating habits of mill workers,” says Professor Munson. “For me, the most interesting part is to better understand the workers' lives. Most of the written documents that we have about the area focus on the business side of things. They're silent when it comes to the daily lives of working class people. Artifacts associated with the workers can potentially tell us things like what they ate, how they treated illnesses, and what they did for recreation.”
Learn more about the history and evolution of Trent lands at trentlands.ca