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Halifax: blending past & present

America’s Stonehenge and Druid Hill Stone Circle are examples which could prove significant archaeological sites. Due to innocent tampering or outright and intentional manipulation of evidence, details from the past have been damaged or destroyed. A cloud of skepticism looms. Theories on the origins of these sites, who built them and why, cannot be proven with absolute certainty. We can wonder. We can conjure exciting ideas, but they will remain theories.

This blog takes a side road of sorts. It’s about an archaeological site of a different kind. Not standing stones or henges. It’s about a city. And yet, it’s not different at all. What is different is the approach that is being taken to excavate it.

It was planned.

Halifax, Canada, was founded in 1749 by Britain under the command of Edward Cornwallis. Halifax, like so many older cities, is a city built on a city built on a city. Whenever there’s construction in the oldest parts of Halifax, something from the past is bound to turn up. Heck, you might walk along many beaches in the area and discover something washed up from the harbour.

I currently live in Halifax. It’s not uncommon to stroll around downtown and see a lot of construction. Often buildings that are in process of being demolished or expanded will lie in a state of transformation. I remember studying a building which stood a few stories that was partly demolished. Jutting out from an exterior wall was a much smaller building. The outline of the smaller building, including a pitched roof, was clearly defined. Somewhere in the nearer past a larger building swallowed the home somewhere in its design. In part of downtown, original building fronts are carefully preserved. Larger, modern buildings rise from the pedestals of these older buildings. In a future Jamie Poole book (publication date TBD), she will visit Halifax and have her own view on this. Here Halifax embraces its past and includes it in its future.

However, this blog pertains specifically to one construction site: Queen’s Marque which lies along the waterfront. Anyone in the area has a front row seat to unearthing the past.

With any construction, a lot of planning takes place. In this instance, that required bringing in archaeologists. They knew they were building on a location where a guardhouse from 1780s once stood. Working off old city maps they knew precisely where to excavate. Every day, side-by-side with excavators and other large equipment, archaeologists are meticulously unearthing the foundations of the guardhouse. As with any site, they are discovering glimpses from the past: a stone marker used by the British Military to mark war department property, a Saint Benedict’s medal worn to protect against evil spirits, pottery shards, pipes, bottles, bits of glass, even a boot. OK, a boot might not excite everyone, but all these things shine a light on life more than 200 years ago.

Many items uncovered in this excavation will eventually end up in a museum where they can be studied and preserved. Cue the Indiana Jones theme music.

The point to this blog is to illustrate that with care, planning, and a conscious intent to protect our past, it is possible to unearth past relics and protect these treasures which illustrate our history.

It’s unfortunate to see so many areas destroyed by events we can’t control like changing weather patterns. It’s even sadder to see sites destroyed needlessly in war. It’s a tragedy when sites like Stonehenge may be damaged intentionally by construction.

Hats off to Halifax for careful preservation during construction!

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