On Wednesday, November 30, 2011, anthropology students at Trent University Oshawa Thornton Road Campus held a public Show & Tell to share findings from their recent archaeological dig at Oshawa’s historic Henry House Museum.
Oshawa mayor John Henry was in attendance to see the results of the students’ field experience, followed by lab work at Trent. The mayor was on site at the dig in August 2011, when his shovel was the first to break ground, digging up bones, brick and glass right away.
“I’m always amazed when I come to Trent and I would like to say thank you to the students for digging up our community’s history and sharing it with us,” said Mayor Henry to the crowd.
About 40 members of the Oshawa Historical Society came to Trent’s Oshawa campus and were treated to a private tour of the lab. They had an opportunity to interact with students and shared their personal expertise on a variety of topics, while hearing about the students’ discoveries.
Student displays were filled with small bags and neatly labeled items from the dig such as pieces of imported dishware, bits of broken glass, beads, bucket handles, silverware and coins. Students were on hand to describe their findings, and they had lots of stories to tell.
Third-year student Ken Johnstone told the story of the big mystery piece that had the team quite puzzled for a couple of weeks. It turned out to be a bucket handle. “It’s the seemingly mundane pieces that are really interesting,” he explained, holding up a small bag with what looked like a spotted pebble. “This small piece of china was traced overseas, but we had to go through a few archaeologists to find that out for sure. That was really exciting,” he said.
Proud father of a three-year-old son, Mr. Johnstone was grateful for the opportunity to gain experience in the field without having to travel to a far away destination, though that is in his future. “It’s one thing to read about it, but to do it is another. The field-school experience was phenomenal. It was the real deal.”
“It was fun,” said fourth-year student Teresa Vanschaik. “And now I’m qualified for employment on other digs, such as the 407 assessment project coming up.” Ms. Vanschaik started taking courses part-time at Trent University Oshawa in 2000 and has enjoyed the new Thornton Road campus that she described as cozy. “I can hang out on the couches and get a lot of studying done here because it’s nice and quiet,” she said. With two courses remaining for her to complete a psychology degree, she is still in no rush to be finished.
Dr. Helen R. Haines, assistant professor of Anthropology at Trent University Oshawa provided a lecture summary of the excavation’s findings, explaining the potential cultural and historical implications to an engaged audience. Executive director of the Oshawa Museum and Trent alumna Laura Suchan was welcomed by warm applause from the group before delivering her presentation about the history of Henry House.
“It’s all about bringing people together with the same passion,” said Ms. Suchan. “We were just looking for an opportunity like this, having always wanted to dig in this location, to learn more about what life was like down at the waterfront. The whole idea of introducing historical archaeology to the Oshawa area, for the benefit of students, visitors and residents, is very exciting. The past is really important and we need to share and protect this history.”
The dig took place at Henry House, one of three houses sitting on original foundations along the lakeshore that were built between 1835 and 1850. Students applied their skills during the archaeological dig for two weeks and then processing artefacts in the laboratory during the fall term at Trent University Oshawa.