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A glimpse into the past

Hurricane Fiona unearths mid-1800s site at Grand Bay West beach area

Jamie Brake (left) and Greg Sheaves at the Grand Bay West Beach site on Thursday, Oct. 6. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

– with files from René J. Roy

PORT AUX BASQUES — An archaeological site has been uncovered on Grand Bay West beach thanks to Hurricane Fiona. This particular site was uncovered at the far end of the now demolished wooden boardwalk that traversed the length of First Beach. Greg Sheaves and Shane Lomond found the site while removing the damaged boardwalk.

“We were taking out the boardwalk for the Town that was all damaged from the storm that came through, and we went down to the far end and started taking that section out when the tide was low. As we were taking it out – I was travelling up the beach with the sections and Shane was waiting for me to come back – and that’s when he noticed all of the flat rocks packed in, nice and neat, under about two-and-a-half to three feet of mud. It was exposed from the storm,” said Sheaves.

Something unique about the stones happened to catch Lomond’s eye as he walked along the beach.

“Just how they fit together and how level they were. They were perfectly flat. It looked like a floor of some sort. After seeing a bit of pottery and a bit of glass there, it piqued my interest and I was paying a little bit more attention as I was walking around.”

No heavy equipment was used to uncover the site.

“It was washed up from the storm, the mud was taken back out into the ocean, and it exposed these flat stones under the mud,” explained Sheaves.

The storm surge also revealed more than the large stones.

“We found pottery, we found some glass, some old hinges, an old ring – an eyelet – a bit of china, and wandering around we saw the rocks there,” said Lomond.

In the 30-plus years they’ve worked in construction, neither Sheaves nor Lomond had ever seen something like this.

“We just figured – being under the mud like that – it must’ve been an old floor for a building from hundreds of years ago, because how would it have three feet of mud under these packed stones? That wouldn’t happen overnight. It took a long period of time to have that much mud and vegetation above it,” said Sheaves. “I contacted (the Wreckhouse Weekly) just to pique interest for people and to try to figure out what it might’ve been. It’s not common to see something like that, that far down under the ground.”

Both Sheaves and Lomond knew the discovery could be something special and are glad that people are taking an interest in it.

“I think it is great that someone might take notice, because Shane took notice of it in the beginning, and when the two of us started to poke around and noticed that all of these flat stones still continued in underneath the mud that weren’t even exposed, we couldn’t see it, and some had been washed down, tilted, and fell down. I spoke to someone downtown who said it was a colonial road, but I said I didn’t think so. Why would a colonial road go up against an upright bank? A horse is not going to go up over that, but it’s pretty interesting,” said Sheaves.

One of the people who took a special interest was Jamie Brake with the Provincial Archaeology Office and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts and Recreation.

“The office received a report that a potential archaeological feature was exposed as a result of erosion caused by post-tropical storm Fiona. So I went down there to have a look and see what the situation was,” said Brake. “There certainly was exposed archeology there and it was really interesting. So we went down and a couple of gentlemen from the area brought me out right where the site was, which was great. Being brought right out to the site certainly sped things up. It was amazing, and there was an exposed cultural level there.”

Brake said that there were a few details he quickly noticed.

“There was a couple of features. There was a little bit of a flagstone paved area. There was a little bit of a base of a hearth feature – a European style, maybe like the base of chimney or something like that – and there were also a couple of posts, sort of like fence posts, that could have been hammered in after the fact, much more recently,” said Brake. “Throughout this, there were artifacts in the exposed area and as well as in the exposed profile, sort of where the soil had been cut off. You could see a nice profile in a couple of places there, so that was interesting, and you get a sense from that – because there were still some artifacts in place there – of where things were and the general age.”

The site was probably occupied 170 to 120 years ago.

“It looks like this is a relatively recent occupation. It would be a European occupation, and it’s the remains of a place where people were working, potentially living, and it dates to the 19th century. Looks probably to be the mid-to-late 1800’s. There were a variety of ceramics present and many of those could be clearly identified to that period, so that was nice,” said Brake.

Brake can’t be 100 per cent sure of the purpose of the large flagstones.

“It’s difficult to say. I’m not sure if this was the floor of a dwelling structure. It could’ve been something like that. It could’ve been a feature that might have been used to dry codfish as well. That’s possible too. There’s only a portion of it that we could see, and it looks like a good bit of that pavement seems to be eroded away, so it’s not totally clear how one should interpret that, but those are a couple of reasonable possibilities.”

It is currently unknown if further exploration and excavation into the site will take place.

“It’s difficult to say at this point what will be done in the future. It was really useful to go down there. There’s a lot of archaeological potential in the area, and it’s possible that other sites have been exposed as a result of the storm as well, but it’s difficult to know exactly what will happen now in the future. We certainly are thinking about the area, and it’s something we will be talking about and figuring out things out as we move forward. This doesn’t seem to be a particularly old or highly significant site or anything like that, so we’re not too worried about that particular spot, but we do have concerns about the general area,” said Brake. “We have concerns that other sites are possibly exposed, so it would be nice to learn a bit more about that in the future. It remains to be seen exactly what we would be able to do down there, but it would be nice to get back at some point in the future if we could, and have a look at the general area to see what else might have been impacted, what else may have been exposed.”

Regardless of whether or not the area will be explored further, Brake said the discovery yielded beneficial results.

“This particular site was not previously recorded, so that was useful. Useful information came out of this, and it was a nice chance to talk to people about archeology, the Historic Resources Act and the fact that archaeological sites are protected under the act, so that was good.”

Brake said a small collection of artifacts were taken from the site for a couple of reasons.

“The main reason to collect anything at all would be to get a representative sample of what was there, so that we could get a good handle of the age of the site. That was the main purpose,” said Brake. “I was careful to not collect things that would require conservation because there are costs associated with that when things need to be maintained into the future, so I was careful to select things that were stable. So basically pottery, and there was one piece of a tobacco pipe stem that was collected as well.”

Nadine Osmond, President of the Southwest Coast Historical Society, said people did live there years ago.

“That area, the Lomond family owned quite a bit of land out there, and I’m pretty sure there was a graveyard out there that was relocated because it was close to the water. I don’t have a big history compiled on it, but I know from some of the people who are living in Grand Bay West that families did live out that way.”

Osmond said she isn’t aware of any historical records that the Society holds on the area, but it’s possible they could have something on file in the archives.

“There might be something in our collection because, back in the seventies when the historical society began, there may be some information in there, some stories or something like that, but I haven’t looked at that information in a while.”

Brake said this situation was extremely helpful, knowing that this site was impacted by the storm, and encourages anyone who discovers something similar to reach out.

“If anybody comes across other exposed archaeological sites, features, or artifacts, it would be great if they could reach out to the provincial archaeological office. That would help us learn more about how concerned we need to be about the area. It’s also important for people to note that archaeological sites are protected under the Historic Resources Act and it’s important to leave things in place if there are artifacts there or features. It’s important to leave them as they are so we can learn as much as possible about the site in question.”

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