Digging into York’s Aboriginal past
permission courtesy of York U Magazine, Summer 2005 edition
Before students and professors lived here, York campus was a popular spot with ancient Aboriginal Peoples – for thousands of years in fact. “It’s one of the top 10 archaeological sites in Ontario – which is saying something,” says Ron Williamson of Archaeological Services Inc.
The partially excavated Parsons site (as the dig on York’s campus boundary is known) revealed a village that was inhabited year-round by up to 2,000 people over a 20-year period. More than 300,000 artifacts have been recovered. “And there’s a lot more to come,” says Williamson.
When glaciers receded 11,000 years ago, Palaeo-Indian (10,000-7,000 BC) populations began to move into Ontario. They, along with descendants and other cultural groups, left behind a clear record of their lives with artifacts such as spear and arrowheads, pottery vessels fragments, beads, and remnants of their homes. The Ontario Iroquoian (AD700-1651) village dates from about 1450-1550. Villages were usually occupied between 5 to 30 years and would contain (as the Parsons site does) several cigar-shaped longhouses which sheltered up to 50 people.
What would attract Aboriginal Peoples to the area? “Rivers and their tributaries were a natural migration path for people and also afforded a source of water,” says Cathy Crinnon, archaeologist with Toronto and Region Conservation. “Riverine environments also attracted wildlife.” Parsons is among 170 known archaeological sites in Toronto.