Henry House Site

A livable, vibrant city is more than its physical structure; social sustainability in the way of preserving our cultural heritage, strengthens one’s feeling of connectedness to both history and the environment and supports the livability of a place.  The Oshawa Community Museum and Trent University (Oshawa) embraced the idea of social sustainability, collaboration and partnership with the historical archaeology project, Digging Oshawa’s History, Archaeological Explorations at the Oshawa Community Museum.

The museum’s three historic homes, Guy, Henry and Robinson houses,  are excellent examples of 19th century architecture and are well documented historically, however no archaeological investigations had been conducted prior to 2011.  In 2010 the OCM was  approached by  Professor Helen Haines of Trent University to develop a partnership in order to investigate and document the history of Henry House archaeologically.    The result was a joint Trent-Oshawa University and OCM endeavor designed as a multi-year archaeological research project investigating the property immediately adjacent to Henry House.   Identification and excavation of the material recovered will contribute to our understanding of the domestic lives of the residents of Henry House specifically,  and more generally, to 19th century life in the lakefront community. Led by Associate Professor Helen Haines, students spent two weeks in the summer of 2011 excavating at Henry House and  the fall term working in the Trent Oshawa laboratory learning “post-dig” artefact processing and analysis.

As Henry House rests on its original foundation the presence of subsurface remains was highly probable which made it a good candidate for archaeological investigation.  These remains could consist of wells, outhouses, and middens (garbage deposits).  Although none of these remains were clearly identified for Henry House, there is a strong possibility that a cellar of some type was found.  Further investigation is needed to confirm this although this would be a typical feature for residences of the time period.  Identifying the locations of outhouses and middens  would greatly enhance our understanding of the social life of both the time period and the Oshawa community as these types of features were commonly used to deposit defunct household items.  Materials that can typically be recovered from waste deposits include a variety of food remains, broken household wares (e.g., dishes, glass ware, etc.), food and drink containers, among other domestic items.  These items can help us understand the economic and social prosperity of these individuals which in turn can provide valuable information regarding the social ranking of these positions (i.e., Harbour Master, Minister, and community member).  Moreover, material recovered from the excavation can provide material evidence as to the access the community and its members may have had to trade wares imported from other parts of Canada or Europe.

The area that was excavated included the backyard of Henry House where the herb gardens are currently located.   Test pits were dug to determine the best spots to excavate. The information from these pits was analyzed and the ones which reaped the most interesting artifacts were chosen to be excavated.

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After two weeks of excavating over 500 artifacts were catalogued and bagged awaiting further examination in the laboratory. The most prolific type of artifact assemblage found was ceramic of which pieces of transfer ware were most numerous..  Transfer printing is the process of decorating ceramics from paper impressions taken off inked copperplate engravings.  There are a myriad of transfer printed designs – many of which were found in the Henry House excavation including Blue Willow (1917) and a unique piece which is not commonly found in this area,  black and white transfer ware (1830-1850).

Many nails, mostly of the square variety were common of which most were quite large resembling more of a stake by today’s standards.  Three coins were discovered, two 1820’s Merchant Tokens which were distributed by local merchants to facilitate trade and an  1885 5 cent piece featuringQueen Victoria. Other interesting items discovered  include pieces of raspberry glass and window glass, many animal bones and household utensils such as spoons and forks.  Detailed research is continuing on the artifact assemblage and once complete the artefacts will be given to the museum to become a permanent part of our collection.

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