But it could vanish and there may not be much time left. Unless plans change, the federal government is shipping all of Atlantic Canada’s historic and archaeological objects, currently housed in Dartmouth, to Central Canada.
The mayor of Annapolis Royal can see a day when Nova Scotia will end up in a box in a corner, soon forgotten and eventually discarded.
MacDonald toured the Parks Canada Archaeology Lab in Woodside Monday in an effort to understand the enormity of the loss if the facility is closed – possibly in the near future.
Moving walls of boxes, plastic containers, wooden drawers, shelves, and binders make up part of the state of the art facility. It’s climate controlled and also contains a furniture lab, textile lab, inorganic objects lab, a photo studio, offices, and 1.4 million archaeological objects and about 10,000 historic objects like chairs and tables.
That box of dark green wine bottle glass from Fort Anne is destined for a shelf in a building somewhere in Quebec. That brick and mortar from a dig at Signal Hill in St. John’s? Going to Gatineau. Ditto the metal objects unearthed at the Citadel in Halifax. The same for the pre-contact items from Keji – points, scrapers, arrowheads.
MacDonald doesn’t even have to seek them out. Annapolis Valley history is everywhere in that room. There are containers marked ‘Melanson Settlement,’ drawers that say ‘Fort Anne,’ or ‘Grand Pré,’ and boxes with ‘Champlain’s Habitation’ labels.
“The facility is state-of-the-art and the removal of these artifacts from Nova Scotia to another location in Canada – my concerns are that we’ll eventually just see these artifacts put in a box marked Nova Scotia and put in a corner,” said MacDonald.
He described the closure of the facility and relocation of the artifacts as tragic and something Minister Responsible for Parks Canada, Catherine McKenna, must reconsider.
The purpose-built facility opened in 2009 but talk of shutting it down came soon after.
MacDonald said the Stephen Harper Government determined that it was going to close the Dartmouth lab and other similar ones across Canada and relocate all of the artifacts to a central repository in Gatineau.
“There was some concern raised at the time,” said MacDonald. “I think the first mention of it was in 2012. But with a change of federal government there was hope the new government, the Liberal government, would overturn that decision. People became concerned when it looked like that wasn’t going to happen, and so I for one added my voice to the chorus of people who were obviously opposed to the closure of the lab and the relocation of our artifacts, the Nova Scotian artifacts, to Quebec.”
MacDonald reached out to West Nova MP Colin Fraser some time ago, and Fraser made contact with the other Members of Parliament in Atlantic Canada.
“Given the significant role that our region has played in the development of the country, including the rich part that Indigenous and Acadian peoples have played, I feel it's especially important to keep the artifacts, field notes, lab and academic resources in the region,” said Fraser, “and I will continue working with my Atlantic colleagues and Minister McKenna to ensure we reach a satisfactory result.”
He said Atlantic MPs are well aware of the issue and understand why it is important for the region to keep these artifacts.
“There does seem to be a consensus that the archaeology lab in Dartmouth should remain the place these items are maintained,” he said, adding that he and a number of colleagues have been discussing the matter with McKenna in a constructive fashion.
“As I understand it, a preliminary move was announced in 2012 to consolidate all of these types of facilities into one central facility in Gatineau, QC,” Fraser said. “We believe, however, that the Dartmouth facility is able to properly preserve and maintain the artifacts stored there.”
Fraser believes that not only should the artifacts remain in the region, but the public should have even more access to them.
“We should be working towards making them even more accessible to the people of Atlantic Canada,” he said. “Perhaps that will mean having them more readily accessible and on display at Parks Canada sites, or other appropriate places across the region, all while always respecting the maintenance, preservation, and security of these items.”
“Minister McKenna has been very accommodating in listening to our concerns, and Atlantic MPs, including myself are working constructively on finding a positive outcome that results in the artifacts remaining in the region,” said Fraser. “I believe we are in a good position to make sure that happens.”
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is also hopeful for a positive resolution and has been involved since the matter was brought to his attention by MP and Cabinet Minister Scott Brison.
“We have been working at finding what is a long-term positive solution for those artifacts to remain here in Nova Scotia,” said McNeil. “It would be my hope, though, that they wouldn’t all just be hidden away, that we’d be able to see them. We have a number of facilities across the province that at different times we (could) have a rotating show with some of those artifacts so that Nova Scotians could see them.”
He said he’s very encouraged that all Atlantic Members of Parliament are on board with keeping the artifacts here. “I’m looking forward to finding out a resolution that we can all live with,” the Premier said.
“I’m hopeful that the minister responsible will reconsider the move, that she will listen to the Members of Parliament for Atlantic Canada and that she will listen to the good sense of keeping this facility in operation and the artifacts in the region, in the locality from which they came,” said MacDonald.
Following are highlights of an interview with Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald on his reaction to his experience of touring the Parks Canada Archaeology Lab June 17 in Dartmouth:
Remarkable Experience: “It was a remarkable experience both as mayor of the Town of Annapolis Royal but also as a citizen, a resident of Nova Scotia to be able to see where these treasures, these important artifacts are held, are stored, are safeguarded, are catalogued, are made available to researchers, to archaeologists, to academics.”
State-of-the-Art: “The facility is state-of-the-art and the removal of these artifacts from Nova Scotia to another location in Canada – my concerns are that we’ll eventually just see these artifacts put in a box marked Nova Scotia and put in a corner. The loss of this facility, this remarkable facility, -- it can be used for more than it’s currently even being used for – is a tragic loss and really needs to be rethought by the minister.”
Always Concerned: “I’ve always been concerned about the relocation of these artifacts from the region, from Fort Anne, from Melanson Settlement, from Grand Pré, from Port Royal. To see today the actual items that are there, preserved and protected, to be made available, was really quite striking. It was really quite remarkable.”
Emotional: “To see items that were collected over a number of archaeological digs that helped mark the place where our history unfolded – the emotional response one has to seeing the First Nations artifacts that were recovered at Fort Anne or Keji, the pieces of pottery, or clay, or pipes that were taken from digs in Annapolis Royal – it makes history real. That’s the most significant part about artifacts. They are the physical evidence of our history."
Historic Objects: “I was quite struck going into the historic objects portion of the lab to see all the furniture and artifacts that are there from Province House in Prince Edward Island that are being stored there and protected while they are doing restoration at Province House. These are potentially the same desks and tables and chairs where our Fathers of Confederation gathered around and sat on crafting the documents that would form our confederation, our country.
“If they weren’t there (in Dartmouth) there was no place for the province of PEI to store them locally where they would be protected in climate-controlled environments like they are in Dartmouth. This is a state-of-the-art facility that if it didn’t exist, if it was closed, one would only assume that the government of Prince Edward Island would just have to store them in a warehouse somewhere.”
Rise Up: “It’s clear to me after taking the tour today that this is a facility that Nova Scotians should rise up against being closed and the artifacts relocated. This is a state-of-the-art facility with staff who have expertise, on-the-ground knowledge of where these artifacts came from. They’re skilled in the preservation and maintenance of them. We should do everything we can to ensure that this facility is not closed, that these artifacts stay in the Province of Nova Scotia.”
The Context: “History is all about context, and when you see the physical evidence of your history, of your heritage – of the history and heritage of a place – it gives you an insight that you couldn’t possibly have understood in simply considering it. You can read in the history books about an event but when you see objects that were from a place, from a time that record and reflect that culture, those people, that place, that time – it’s immeasurable the impact of that on a community, on a culture, and on a people.”