Whatever happened to the Colonel Smith homestead artifacts found in 1984?

C. O’Marra writes:

Did you ever find out what happened to the Colonel Smith homestead
artifacts found almost thirty years ago? I read an incredibly
detailed description of the dig. The only maddening thing. Not ONE
blessed word of artifacts found, not one. Why all the secrecy? Was
this a private company project ? (C. O’Marra)

That’s a good question. I have the answer.

I gave a talk about the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead site some time ago; my speaking notes from the talk can be found here. [To access the blog post dealing with this, click on the link in the previous sentence.]

The talk is available as a 26-minute online video at the Vimeo website. The video shows photos of several of the artifacts. I was required to ensure that all of the appropriate protocols were followed for the online display of photos of the artifacts. I was pleased to follow the procedures to the letter.

The main body of artifacts from the 1984 dig are at a secure facility in Toronto. They are not available for public viewing. In the event that the City of Toronto establishes a Toronto history museum at some point down the road I imagine they would be displayed in the future.

The video I refer to is a relatively long one. The speaking notes are relatively lengthy as well. This is a subject that in my view requires some time and an adequate word count to explain. That being the case, I imagine a person would need to be quite interested in the topic, if they are going to watch the full video and/or read the full speaking notes.

By way of background, and in response to C. O’Marra’s questions about the artifacts discovered in 1984, here’s an excerpt from my speaking notes for the video:

Dena Doroszenko conducted a preliminary archaeological dig in 1984

I want to speak in more detail about the archaeological features of the Smith homestead. The house where Samuel Smith and his family lived was subjected to a very thorough bulldozing in 1955. Dena Doroszenko has provided valuable details about the razing – that is, razing as in r-a-z-i-n-g – of the Smith house.

We owe thanks to the Long Branch Historical Society for inviting Doroszenko to conduct the preliminary archaeological dig in 1984. As well, the Etobicoke Board of Education (which later became part of the Toronto District School Board), the City of Etobicoke (which later became part of the City of Toronto), the Etobicoke Historical Society, and the Province of Ontario were also involved with the survey. The resulting report was a key ingredient in our recent letter writing campaign.

1984 was the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the official founding of the City of Toronto. Doroszenko had just finished her master’s degree and was going into the Ph.D. program in archaeology at the University of Toronto. She had been working off and on as a consultant with the City of Toronto, on one of their properties, when the Long Branch Historical Society contacted her. They were looking for someone to do a small dig at the Parkview School site, in connection with Toronto’s anniversary. She took on the project, and the dig was completed in the summer of 1984.

A small amount of money was available, which was enough, because Doroszenko was able to get a couple of volunteers. Members of the Long Branch Historical Society came out to help. She also had an undergraduate student with her for twelve days. Another graduate student did the mapping for the project. In the fall, still another undergraduate student did a geophysical survey of the site.

Colonel Samuel Smith built a log cabin at this site in 1797

The archaeology project found a large amount of artifacts elsewhere on the site, but not much came out of the flat part of the schoolyard where the original Samuel Smith house had stood. That would indicate that something has happened in the area. Given that historic maps show where the house was located, we would expect to still have artifacts showing up, but almost none were found in that area in 1984.

Doroszenko is certain that the 1984 dig was looking for the Smith house in the right area of the schoolyard. The project looked at two registered surveys. These surveys showed some slight differences in the orientation of the house. The 1984 project looked at both surveys and ensured that both possible orientations were taken into account when the digging began.

Doroszenko believes that when the Smith house was demolished, it was bulldozed into the embankment where the townhouses are now standing. Everything was shoved up on the north side to create an embankment, a rise in the land, which is what you see now if you walk in the area.

A study of the soil gave no indication that there had in fact ever been a building where maps show that the Samuel Smith cabin had been built in 1797. The flat area of the open space had been completely razed – as in r-a-z-e-d – in terms of a complete scraping of the soil by earth moving equipment. The area has been graded, which means that everything had been shifted.

A recent photo shows approximately where Colonel Samuel Smith built a log cabin in 1797. Extensions had been built to the cabin and siding had been added.The hill where townhouses now stand is where debris from his cabin may have been pushed with a bulldozer when the Smith house was demolished in 1955. Jaan Pill photo

Stone foundations were found, in 1984, in the embankment area near where the townhouses now stand. These were likely the foundations of the outbuildings that historic maps have indicated were close to the original building. There had been an earlier outbuilding, which was torn down at some point. Thereafter, another outbuilding had been built on top of the original foundations. Two stone foundations are located, one on top of the other, close to the fence on the embankment. These were immediately north-east of the 1797 house. In between the gap, separating the two foundation walls, a very large amount of artifacts were found in 1984.

Also in 1984, the survey investigated the south-west corner, and the western wall, of one of these outbuildings. There was time, during the survey, to look at barely a quarter of the building. The rest of the building would appear to be still intact in the ground.

The 1984 survey did not dig in the interior of the outbuilding that was uncovered. That’s because the presence of collapsed rubble inside the structure meant it was not safe to dig in the interior. But it was possible to trace the outline of a portion of the building.

A very small number of artifacts were found in the area of the Smith house. There is a possibility of finding more artifacts in a future survey of the area where the house stood. The 1984 report recommended more archaeological testing in this area.

[End of first excerpt]

Possible future next steps regarding the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead site

After the Parkview School project came to a successful conclusion, I gave some thought to  possible next steps for the project. The message from C. O’Marra has prompted me to stop to think about possible next steps, which were also outlined in the above-mentioned talk.

A second excerpt from the above-mentioned speaking notes offers the following overview of possible next steps for the site:

The 1984 report recommended a full archaeological survey

There has been discussion about organizing a full archaeological survey in the future. Whether or not one ever takes place depends on a lot of things, including what the new owners want to do. Speaking with the new owners will be among our first steps with regard to a possible complete survey.

An area of particular interest for a full archaeological survey is the embankment – the small hill close to where the townhouses are located. This area warrants further testing, given that two outbuildings, right on top of each other, are located on the hillside. It would be of much interest to excavate the entire outbuilding in that area.

Because we know where the walls of the foundations for the outbuildings are located, it would be possible to create a commemorative garden on the embankment. A garden, dedicated to Colonel Samuel Smith, could be built along the footprint of the foundations.

Domestic spaces have undergone many changes over the years

The Colonel Smith site, as Dena Doroszenko has explained, was one of the earliest farmsteads in this part of the city. Anything that tells us a little bit more about what it was like to live in this area of the city, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, is of interest to archaeologists.

Starting in 1797, living at the Smith homestead was very much a matter of living in the country, in a clearing in a forest. Over time the remaining forests in the area were cleared. Then over time we see the encroachment of the growing city. The farmstead in the countryside is transformed, with the passage of time, into an urban farmstead. Over time, we see the property boundaries changing. We see the types of buildings that are needed also changing. We see additions, substitutions, and demolitions under way, in response to urbanization and new technologies.

Doroszenko has studied many sites like the Smith homestead. She speaks of this work as the archaeology of domestic space. The Ashbridge Estate, east of the Don River, by way of example, shows similarities to the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead. The two homesteads are, in a sense, mirror images of each other. The Ashbridge Estate had its beginnings around 1795, starting with a land grant and the building of a log cabin. We see, in both ends of the city, a succession of generations living on the same land, in a succession of houses. Another archaeological site that is similar to these is the Spadina House in Toronto.

There’s been discussion about a historic plaque

Over the past year there has also been discussion about a plaque for the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead site. The organizing of a plaque is usually done in collaboration with the property owner, which in this case is Conseil scolaire Viamonde. As well, the Ontario Heritage Trust also has a program of Conservation Easements, which are always negotiated with the property owner. A Conservation Easement would limit what can be done with the open space, and would remain on title even if the ownership changes in the future.

The Samuel Smith site currently is registered in the province’s archaeological sites database and in a City of Toronto database. That gives it a slight measure of protection. If the site were also designated as a historic site, that would offer additional protection. The greatest amount of protection would be through a Conservation Easement.

We have many potential projects to think about. The first step will involve the opening of a dialogue between the local community and Conseil scolaire Viamonde.

By way of summary, we owe many thanks to many public officials and area residents for what has turned out to be a good news story regarding the homestead of Colonel Samuel Smith.

There are many possible next steps in the work we are doing together, as a community, with regard to the Colonel Smith homestead site.to

[End of second excerpt]

Value of networking

It’s interesting to re-read the above-noted text. When I read in October 2010 that the Toronto. District School Board was going to sell Parkview School I became involved in a process of community networking that is still continuing.

So many people beginning with the leadership of the Long Branch Historical Society as it was constituted in the early 1980s played a key role in the successful outcome of the Parkview School story. Some of the most important initial networking occurred when local early morning dog walkers stopped to chat. My ongoing Aquaview Condominiums documentation project, which gave rise to my interest in historic maps and archival resources related to the immediate area, began with a dog walking route that I had adopted years ago. Neighbourhood dog walking routines are a key part of valuable local networking processes.

My involvement with the Parkview School story led in turn to my interest in the heritage preservation aspects of the Mimico 20/20 planning process and the related unfolding Wesley Mimico United Church redevelopment narrative.

It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to revisit this topic. I much appreciate the questions C. O’Marra has raised. There is tremendous value in conversations about what we know and don’t know about the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead site – and about possible next steps related to it.

Additional comment from C. O’Marra:

I read that very involved story of the dig but the entire description
fails to detail ONE artifact.If an amateur historian in England can
find and dig up the remains of Richard III, why is it so difficult to
present what was found on-line in our little village ? Just to leave
the study in a file “somewhere in Toronto” seems peculiar. Too many
historical plaques now in this township where conservation should have
been applied.(eg.any remnant of the Aerodrome or the O’Connor
farmstead now the site of townhomes) C. O’Marra


The report of the 1984 archaeological dig does include details about the artifacts. I will post details when time permits. With regard to what gets conserved and what doesn’t, that’s a great topic for conversation. What has (and has not) been preserved, and why, is part of the interesting story of Long Branch, Ontario and adjacent communities.

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