NCC invites public to help dig up and preserve capital's history

The National Capital Commission is inviting the public to help it dig, sift and scrape its way through the capital's history this August as part of its annual Archaeology Month.

Excavation happening on Ottawa River shoreline, Moore Farm

NCC archaeologist Ian Badgley poses at the site of his latest dig, Lac Leamy Park on the Gatineau side of the Ottawa River. His archaeological career dates back to the 1970s, with a lot of it spent in Canada's North. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

The National Capital Commission is inviting the public to help it dig, sift and scrape its way through the capital's history this August as part of its annual Archaeology Month.

This weekend, and the next two after that, NCC archaeologist Ian Badgley is leading a team of researchers and volunteers to look for Indigenous artifacts on the shore of the Ottawa River at Lac Leamy Park.

"We're at the heart of a vast continent-sized communications and trade network because of the three river basins — the Gatineau, the Rideau and the Ottawa — and their tributaries," Badgley said from the shoreline on Saturday.

"Goods, raw materials and ideas were flowing in over long, long distances: as far away as Lake Superior, Hudson Bay, the northern Labrador coast, Ohio, Kentucky, Maine. This has been a meeting place for 6,000 years, more or less."

The NCC's Ian Badgley shows off some of the Indigenous artifacts found on the shore of the Ottawa River. While the people may not have travelled that far, the pottery and other goods they traded came to the capital from as far away as Labrador and Kentucky. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

The team had already found bits of patterned pottery, tool fragments and a fireplace on Saturday — on only the second day of digging.

"It's really cool that these pieces were touched by someone from many many generations ago," said Phil Macho Commonda, an Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi working on the site as a summer student.

"It could be my great-grandmother, it could be my great-great-great-great grandfather. My lineage is connected directly to this shoreline."

Phil Macho Commonda is an Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi working at the site as a summer project. He's studying to be an environmental technician at Canadore College in North Bay. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Badgley said letting the public in lets them learn more about the importance of archaeology, adding he feels a moral obligation to protect the kind of knowledge from the past our society doesn't have anymore.

It also helps him get more work done and find more Indigenous artifacts that will eventually be turned over to the region's Algonquin people.

For Guy Laurin from Gatineau, a longtime volunteer with Badgley's team and other archaeologists in the region, the connection is both personal and environmental.

"(Lac) Leamy Park was my playground when I was a little boy," he said.

"Coming here on a weekly basis, I'd find the odd artifact here and there and I'd be very interested in its origin …  it's important we get as much information and share that information with the public to get everyone involved in the issues close to me such as shoreline erosion — every year we lose artifacts to the river that we'll never get back."

Researchers and volunteers excavate a site on the Ottawa River as part of the NCC's Archaeology Month, which started in 2012. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

The open digs, including a section for children under 10, are at Lac Leamy Park from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Sunday and Monday, next Friday to Monday and again Aug. 21 and 22.

Parking is available at 80 Fournier Blvd.

The last weekend in August they shift to Moore Farm off Alexandre-Taché Boulevard, where Broadview Cottage stood for more than 50 years before burning down in 1956, to search for remnants of early 20th-century farm life in the capital.