Nova Scotia

Federal archeology lab in Dartmouth will remain open

Caucus of Atlantic MPs argued against plans to relocate artifacts to Quebec.

Questions remain about staffing and what this means for the other labs slated to close

View of the interior of the archeology lab showing part of the archeological collection in storage. The collection is comprised of over 1 million artifacts from Atlantic Canadian archeological sites, and is a unique resource for researchers, students, and members of descendant communities whose stories are recorded in these objects. (Nova Scotia Archaeology Society)

A federal archeology lab in Dartmouth is staying open after MPs from Atlantic Canada successfully argued it made better business sense to keep it in Nova Scotia, but there are still questions about who will work there. 

The Woodside Parks Canada Archaeology Lab houses archeological and historical objects and collections from Atlantic Canada as well as a conservation laboratory.

"Our argument was from the start that this facility built in Dartmouth in 2009 and leased for 20 years was a purpose built facility and was taking very good care of the artifacts," said Dartmouth-Cole Harbour MP Darren Fisher Wednesday evening.

Atlantic MPs spoke out

In 2012, Parks Canada announced it would be merging six archeology labs across the country and moving their collections to one massive facility in Gatineau, Que.

Fisher said the entire Atlantic caucus convinced Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to keep the Dartmouth lab open. He made the news public in a Facebook and Twitter post on Wednesday.

Fisher said leading up to the news, he and other MPs from the region heard from a wide range of constituents that the lab should stay in Dartmouth.

Mi'kmaq and Acadian groups as well as academics and researchers from Atlantic Canada opposed plans to move the lab, criticizing the 2012 decision because it meant moving Mi'kmaq artifacts to Quebec as well as a loss of expertise in Nova Scotia.

Jonathan Fowler, an archaeologist at Saint Mary's University, said uprooting the lab made no sense "ethically or in terms of how archeology is done."

Victory feels good

After years of fighting against the move, Fowler said he's happy with this week's news. 

"It feels good," he said. "We'd been hearing rumours that this might be in the offing, but there's nothing quite like a little victory from time to time to pick a person up."

Fisher said earlier this week that staffing at the lab should be the same for now, but Fowler wants clearer answers on what the lab will look like going forward.

He hopes to have those conversations with Parks Canada in the coming days. 

A range of colonial-era artifacts recovered by Saint Mary’s University students and members of the public during archaeological excavations at Grand-Pré National Historic Site in 2010. (Jonathan Fowler)

"We really do need to ensure that if the building is going to function that there are actual human beings working there and we want to keep those jobs here too," he said. 

Fowler also wonders what this means for the other five archeological labs slated to move to Gatineau.

The federal government leases the lab's building in Dartmouth. If it had moved, the government would have been on the hook for the annual lease until 2029 at a cost of about $400,000 a year.


Anjuli Patil


Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.

With files from CBC's Information Morning