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Keep digging: Research project continues this summer

Public session planned for May 19 at Barrington Administration Centre to discuss Port La Tour project

PORT LA TOUR – An archeology research project started last summer at the site of an early 17th-century French fur-trading post in Port La Tour known as Fort St. Louis will be continuing this summer.

“This is season two for archeology at Fort St. Louis,” said Katie Cottreau-Robins, curator of archeology for the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage and project lead. “We will be building on the archaeology projects we did last summer.”

 The archeology team will be on site for the month of July, living in the Barrington area. Cottreau-Robins said she is delighted that the local land owners and Parks Canada are supportive of them returning to the site. 

“We’re going to build on the information that we uncovered last summer and we’re going to incorporate a few new things,” she said.

“Because last summer was such a success and so much positive support from the local community and some visitors, we have decided to add a few new components,” she said. “The first part of July we’re going to run a public archeology dig at the site. It will be four or five days where members of the community and public can sign up and they can come and dig at the site. We will have all the tools they need and it gives them the opportunity to come and discover some history, so that’s really exciting. It’s a chance for us to share the story of Fort St. Louis and build some enthusiasm around the research and the work we are doing there.”

Also, she said “to get things going and to get folks thinking about what’s going to be happening this summer,” a public session will be held Saturday, May 19, at the Barrington Administration Centre starting at 1 p.m. The session will include presentations on what was found last summer and what is planned for this summer, along with an artifact display, and a conversation centred around maps of the local area. 

“It would be really exciting if folks can indicate some other areas around Barrington that might be spots where archeology could take place,” said Cottreau-Robins. “We are focused on Fort St. Louis but we’re trying to get a better understanding of the heritage in the larger Barrington area. As an archeologist, I’m always interested in learning about new archeology sites that might need some investigation.”

The project is being supported by the provincial Culture Innovation Fund and links to the new Culture Action Plan on two themes: promoting Mi’kmaq culture and excellence in cultural stewardship, said Cottreau-Robins, adding the community partnership with the Barrington Museum Complex and the Cape Sable Historical Society “was key to the success of this application for funding.”  

Working together with the society, an exhibit is being put together that will be going up in the Old Court House in mid-June for the summer season. 

“We’re working on it now,” said Cottreau-Robins. “(The exhibit) will have some of the artifacts from last summer and will tell the story of Fort St. Louis. We’re excited to design that to be set up in the Old Court House. It’s great to have partners.”

 “Although this project is looking at Fort St. Louis, a 1620s French fur-trading post, we’re really focusing on the Mi’kmaq at this place, at this time. We have artifacts from the Fort St. Louis area that date to 1,500 years ago. We know the Mi’kmaq were there in this part of the province for a very, very long time. This is an ancient Mi’kmaq landscape,” Cottreau-Robins said.

“The French arrive in early 1600s and a relationship begins. So, we’re interested in the early French story but equally interested in learning the Mi’kmaq story in this place, the relationship that begins between the Mi’kmaq and the French. Some of the artifacts we found last summer speak directly to that early relationship and that’s what we’re really trying to learn about this early-1600s period… we don’t know a whole lot about it so we’re trying to address a gap in the records there.”

 Last year, an estimated 2,000 artifacts were collected. 

“We expect we will come to that range again this summer,” said Cottreau-Robins. 

“The last couple of days we were there we uncovered two stone walls and I think I want to organize the public dig in that area to see if we can uncover more of them,” she said, adding the walls are “important architectural features so we would like to concentrate there. It’s a good place to set up the public portion and then have archeologists continue in that area after the public dig is done.”

There are also some areas of interest at the Fort St. Louis site that will be further explored this summer, including the beach area, an old cellar that has been infilled with rocks, and an area identified in the 1980s by the late Lamont Lovitt to an archeologist that is described as an “interesting brick structure.”

“I want to investigate that area,” said Cottreau-Robins, as well as the area where trade beads were found last year. The site is still owned by the Lovitt family.

Last year, Cottreau-Robins said she ended up with 24 volunteers, including fellow archeologists and Nova Scotia Museum staff, and she expects the same this year. 

“Many folks have already contacted me wanting to help,” she said.

“We’re so excited. This is an important site. It has lots of potential for research and investigation. We’re providing training to new archeologists who are trying to gain experience in the field,” she said. “We’re engaging the public, we’re working with the local community and we’re working with the Mi’kmaq so there’s many positive aspects to it.  It’s going to be a busy summer. I think it’s going to be great.”

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