Thunder Bay archeologist recognized with national award

A Thunder Bay, Ont.-based archeologist is being recognized for a lifetime of work, digging up the history of northern Ontario.

Bill Ross is the 2018 recipient of the Roscoe Wilmeth Award from the Canadian Archaeological Association

Thunder Bay's Bill Ross was awarded the 2018 Roscoe Wilmeth Award in May. The Canadian Archaeological Association says the award recognizes outstanding long-term service. (Canadian Archaeological Association)

A Thunder Bay, Ont.-based archeologist who spent decades digging up the history of northern Ontario is being recognized for his dedication and contributions to the field. 

Bill Ross was recently awarded the 2018 Roscoe Wilmeth Award for Service from the Canadian Archaeological Association. He is only the second recipient of the award, which recognizes people who have made significant, long-term contributions to the association or to Canadian archeology. 

"I was kind of surprised when I found out I was being nominated," said Ross, adding that the win was even more unexpected.

Ross, who moved to Thunder Bay in 1977, spent a 25-year career as an archeologist with the province, working to find and preserve artifacts, first on park sites, and later doing assessments on land earmarked for things like mining or forestry developments.

Thunder Bay is a great place to do archeology - Bill Ross

It was never boring work, he said of digging up pieces of history such as flint tools, pottery and copper dating back thousands of years. 

"The best thing was that I never knew what was going to happen from day to day," he said.

"Somebody would walk into the lab with a spear point that was 9,000 years old that was from a place that we hadn't even thought of looking," he continued. "That happened quite often, and that made it exciting."

Many people don't realize how far back the human history of the area dates, Ross said, or how much things changed and developed over the years. 

"Thunder Bay is a great place to do archeology," he said. 

Lake Superior basin holds many old artifacts

"Most people think you have to go to the desert, you have to go to Egypt, you have to go to Greece," Ross said. "We've got stuff here ... we have the oldest copper implements in the world on the Lake Superior basin ... which is pretty neat." 

Throughout his career, he tried to share his work and to get people interested in archeology and the history of the area. 

One of the ways he tried to bring the research to life was through the creation of the Lake Superior Basin workshops, a series of workshops in northern Ontario and Minnesota that have been running for more than 30 years, where researchers were asked to show off physical artifacts instead of academic papers. 
He's made digging up the history of northern Ontario his life's work. Bill Ross is the winner of the 2018 Roscoe Wilmeth Award from the Canadian Archaeological Association 11:47

"So instead of reading about something you actually get to look at it, or feel it," he said.  

Ross was also a founding member of the Thunder Bay chapter of the Ontario Archaeological Society, and served for two years as president of the Canadian Archaeological Association.

He is also a professional associate at the department of anthropology at Lakehead University.