Nfld. & Labrador

Digging for dirt about English settlement in St-Pierre

A team from Memorial University of Newfoundland is unearthing fishing settlement history at the former St-Pierre airport.

'There was a lot of back and forth, but for 50 years, it was English continuously'

This is the first summer the team from Memorial University has excavated the site, but they hope to continue digging at the former airport for another two years. (Submitted/MUN Archaeology Field School)

A Memorial University research team has uncovered the markers of a fishing room, gun flints and smoking pipes during a month-long excavation at the site of what used to be St-Pierre's airport.

"The most interesting things that remain on this area for us, it's not necessarily the remains of the airport, but more the remains of the fishing settlement that was there until people were expropriated in the 1960s or 1970s," said Catherine Losier, an assistant professor in Memorial University's department of archaeology. 

There's almost nothing known on the English occupation.- Catherine Losier

Losier is leading a team to find out more about the site, known as Anse à Bertrand, which she said has an interesting history — even before any items were dug up.

"We were hoping to find artifacts that were a testimony of the English occupation because there's almost nothing known on the English occupation of [the areas]. There was a lot of back and forth, but for 50 years, it was English continuously between 1713 … until 1763," she told CBC Radio's On the Go.

"Nobody has any documentation on this period so this is something we were very interested in."

Researchers enjoy a dig with a view at St-Pierre's old airport, known as Anse à Bertrand. (MUN Archaeology Field School/Submitted)

That changing hands from English to French rule is of particular interest to Meghann Livingston, a MUN master's degree student who was part of the team digging for history. 

"I'm very interested … in what that meant for the population actually living there, but the archaeology so far is very, very French," said Livingston.

People are 'super-welcoming'

She said the experience was "incredible," even though her French language skills aren't the best. Livingston said the work the group was doing broke language barriers. 

"You know that, like, stereotypical East Coast hospitality you have in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland — it's the exact same over there. Everyone is so nice," she said.

Members of the team from MUN say residents of St-Pierre have taken a keen interest in their work. (Submitted/MUN Archaeology Field School)

Losier agreed the experience was made even better by the people, who grew more curious about the team's work as it progressed.

"The population is super-welcoming, very, very interested in the project," she said. 

"There were more and more and more people coming to visit us and also we excavated with local children. They were participating a little bit in the dig."

Losier hopes that enthusiasm — by the locals and among team members — can be maintained as she is planning another two trips to the Anse à Bertrand site. 

With files from On the Go