Archaeology in Canada’s Capital

Archaeology tells the story of different chapters in the Capital Region’s history. The NCC has mapped the archaeological potential on most of the federal lands in the region, and takes measures necessary to protect archaeological resources when it plans for the development of these lands.

Rich heritage

The archaeological heritage of Canada’s Capital Region covers some 8,000 years of history, and remains largely intact. For this reason, we organize digs and public workshops for people to learn about past ways of life in the region.

An archaeologist’s work

Archaeology in Canada’s Capital

The work of an archaeologist involves finding, recovering and interpreting remains that are important elements of our cultural heritage.

After archaeological digs, a large quantity of objects and evidence of the past are preserved:

  • stone tools and encampments of pre-contact Indigenous peoples
  • porcelain dishes used by settlers and the remains of pioneer homes
  • iron relics and foundations of factories established by local industries

Partnership with Indigenous communities

In 2012, the NCC entered a partnership with the communities of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and Pikwàkanagàn for the joint management of archaeological resources. This partnership ensures the direct collaboration of these two Algonquin communities in the protection and management of archaeological resources on federal lands in the Capital Region. The NCC also provides technical assistance to the communities to contribute to capacity building in archaeological heritage management.

The role of the NCC

Our role is to ensure that the archaeological resources of Canada’s Capital Region are properly protected and managed, before, during and after development work.

As the federal organization with authority for federal land use, design and transaction approvals, the NCC reviews changes and alterations to federal properties. During this process, one factor we consider is the potential of a proposed project to disturb or damage archaeological resources. We conduct an environmental assessment to ensure that a project will not adversely impact the environment, including archaeological resources.

The NCC also ensures that federal archaeological artifacts from the region are stored by approved artifact collections repositories.

For more information about the NCC’s archaeological practices, consult the Guide for the Management of Archaeological Resources.

Archaeological investigations on NCC lands

Archaeological investigations on NCC lands

Did you know that archaeological investigations have established that people were living in this region 8,000 years ago? The archaeological sites identified on NCC lands provide information about the Capital Region’s past and how it has changed over the years. The knowledge gained from these investigations helps to inform our decisions about land use planning.

The lands that the Capital now occupies were an ideal place to stop and make camp and, later, to settle, because of the topography and location at the confluence of three rivers. Several sites on the shores of the Ottawa, Rideau and Gatineau rivers contain evidence of occupation by Indigenous peoples over thousands of years, as well as the first settlements established by people of European origin.

  • Human occupation of the area dates back 5,000 to 6,000 years.
  • The park holds one of the richest and largest pre-contact archaeological site complexes in the Outaouais region.
  • The artifacts recovered from the site provide information about the Indigenous history of the region:
    • stone tools and the stone waste flakes produced by making tools
    • implements made of native copper
    • pottery fragments
    • the bones of animals eaten by the inhabitants of the campsites
  • This site was occupied between 500 and 3,000 years ago.
  • An important pre-contact campsite was discovered in Jacques-Cartier Park in 1994.
  • The site contains an area that Indigenous groups used as a workshop for making stone tools, as well as the remains of a tent habitation of about seven metres in diameter.
  • Other artifacts recovered from the site:
    • stone tools
    • fragments of decorated pottery
    • manufactured items related to the early settlement period (porcelain dishes, clay pipes)
    • wine bottle
  • In 1800, Philemon Wright and a small group from Massachusetts were the first settlers of European origin in Hull (now Gatineau).
  • Wright built his first home, which is today known as the “Gatineau Farm.”
  • The house was located on the shore of the Gatineau River, in what is now Leamy Lake Park.
  • While work was being undertaken to stabilize the river shoreline, archaeological excavations uncovered a wealth of items:
  • earthenware pots and dishes
  • cutlery
  • buttons
  • religious medallions
  • combs
  • dolls
  • In 1826, Colonel John By, the Royal Engineer in charge of constructing the Rideau Canal, built a stone house on the site of present-day Major’s Hill Park.
  • In 1848, the house was destroyed by fire.
  • In 1972–1973, the NCC and Parks Canada excavated the foundations of the house.
  • The artifacts recovered included the following:
    • an elegant china tea set
    • ornamented glass objects
    • a wide range of other domestic items
  • Bronze reproductions of some of the artifacts are displayed at the site of the partially restored foundations.
  • Between 2001 and 2009, archaeological investigations were conducted at LeBreton Flats, as part of the soil decontamination and land development of the area.
  • The remains of homes, businesses and industrial buildings from the 19th century were uncovered, reflecting the development of the community after 1850 and its redevelopment after the Great Fire of 1900.
  • More than 200,000 artifacts were recovered from the area, providing a portrait of a thriving industrial and working-class residential district of Ottawa.