Join the Dig: Unearthing the Garden City’s Glorious Maritime Past

There is a marvel of 19th century industry hidden just south of downtown St. Catharines. Resting under a blanket of gravel on the bank of Twelve Mile Creek, this powerhouse of Great Lakes shipbuilding has remained relatively untouched for more than one hundred years - but that is soon to change. The incredible Shickluna Shipyard will soon see the light of day once more as the site of an upcoming archaeological excavation - and YOU can be part of it!

At its peak, the Shickluna Shipyard was one of the premier shipbuilders on the Great Lakes, employing more than 15% of St. Catharines’ workforce. In addition to the shipyard’s central importance to Atlantic-Great Lakes trade in the 1800’s, it was also responsible for injecting nearly $200 million dollars into the Canadian economy. In spite of these feats, much of the information about the once renowned shipyard has been lost to time. Many remain unaware that it is there, let alone its extraordinary accomplishments or its day to day operations. The Shickluna dig’s Project Director Kimberly Monk and her team plan to change all that.

By examining a shipyard that was once on the cutting edge of the industrial age, the Shickluna excavation will give Professor Monk an opportunity to expand our understanding of 19th century shipbuilding. Monk and her team will be examining things like the layout of the yard, the nature and origin of the materials therein, and the techniques the craftsmen used. The project will also investigate the nearby dwellings of the shipyard workers: The Shickluna Village. It is a fantastic opportunity to understand the day to day lives of the people the shipyard employed, some of whom were former slaves who arrived in the area via the Underground Railroad.

In addition to broadening our understanding of the past, the Shickluna Shipyard project is incorporating a digital approach to the site’s conservation which will allow significantly more detailed analysis and utility of the gathered information. The data will be used to create augmented and virtual reality depictions of the shipyard in collaboration with Brock University’s Digital History Narrative Project. These representations will cover various periods in the shipyard’s decades of active use, including the period of the excavation itself. Once the scans and data collection are complete, the structures that are unearthed will be reburied, preserving the site for future study. Here at JBHF, we are happy to celebrate yet another worthy example of the role technology can play in conservation - in our own backyard! We also admire the project’s expanded focus on the continuum of the site’s history, rather than focusing solely on a single era or year.

Our most exciting news is that Professor Monk and her partners are inviting the public to join the team! Brock’s Field School in Local Historical Archaeology is open to everyone. Anyone interested - not just students - should grab this opportunity to share in this unique exploration of our history. Those who take part will have a chance to learn applied archaeological field methods, and to use them to uncover one of the sites that put the City of St. Catharines on the map. If you’d like an active role in the undertaking, click below for more information AND to sign up!