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‘Ancient history in our backyard’ Archaeologist’s talk highlights pre-settler history of Ottawa Valley

by Sophie Kuijper Dickson
Ottawa
Mar. 27, 2024
In the early 1900s, James Lusk made a discovery on his farm in what is now Luskville that would complicate the story told about the history of the Ottawa Valley.
Lusk found two clay pots, perfectly intact, each likely at least 4,000 years old.
The pots were of a style that was common along the St. Lawrence Seaway from Lake Ontario to the mouth of the Saguenay river around the time of European contact.
When Jacques Cartier came up the St. Lawrence in 1534, the Indigenous people he would have met would have been using this kind of pottery.
Its distinctive style, typical of the St. Lawrence Iroquoian people, is marked by the round belly, the shape of the neck, as well as the fine detailing around the top of the pot that was consistent across both pieces Lusk found.
This group of nations lived along the seaway between 1200 and 1600 AD, but historical records show that when Samuel de Champlain traveled along the St. Lawrence in 1608, he did not meet a single member of this group of nations.
The two pots that James Lusk found complicated this narrative.
On Thursday evening, Jean-Luc Pilon, long-time archaeologist with the Canadian Museum of History, explained how the discovery

of the two pots at the turn of the last century, as well as of a third intact pot found on a neighbouring farm, brought new light to the historical understanding of who lived in the Ottawa Valley, and when. “One theory circulating is that a group of Anishinabe Algonquins welcomed a group of St. Lawrence Iroquoians in their home at this tumultuous time period of the late 1500s, early 1600s,” Pilon explained to the several dozen people gathered in a virtual Zoom meeting to hear his talk on the archaeological history of the Ottawa Valley.
“But certainly these spectacular pots speak eloquently of a time when people were moving around and the landscape, culturally, is changing a lot,” Pilon concluded.
The event was organized by the Friends of Chats Falls, a group of Pontiac residents who work to promote the historical and natural wealth of the Chats Falls region and the greater Ottawa River watershed.
The story of the pots found in Luskville was just one of many Pilon shared over the course of the evening’s presentation, each one offering a different glimpse into the many ways various Indigenous nations have lived on and moved over the land that is now the Ottawa Valley.
The archaeological evidence Pilon highlighted, including a small soapstone turtle found just across the river from Quyon dating to either the pre-contact or early contact period, and tools found at a site near Pembroke made from native copper and stone, at least 5,500 years old, tells a story of pre-settler life in the valley that dates back thousands of years.
“I think it’s really
important for people to appreciate the traditional presence of First Nations in the area,” said Deb Powell, member of the Friends of Chats Falls and organizer of the event.
Powell noted that until recently, the group’s events have tended to orient around settler history, offering, for example, a historical bike tour of Bristol, a walking tour of Quyon, or snowshoe trip along the old railway line to visit a site where a lumber baron had a mill.
“It’s a very rich area for that kind of history as well, but that’s so brief. That’s like a blink of an eye compared to the thousands of years that First Nations people inhabited the area,” Powell said.
Last year the group hosted a series of public archaeological digs on the site of a former fur trade post at Pointe a l’Indienne near Quyon.
That dig, along with Thursday’s virtual talk, are part of the group’s efforts to raise awareness of the long history of migration among settlers and Indigenous people in the Ottawa Valley.
“People tend to concentrate on their own heritage,” Powell said. “Us settlers maybe have a tendency not to think too hard about the people who were here before and got displaced, even though their presence is still in the area.”

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