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Martina Norwegian and Stephen Rowan, of the Fort Simpson Historical Society, display two plaques discovered by village employees on Thursday. - Derek Neary/NNSL photo

Digging into history

Memorial plaques unearthed in Simpson -- date back to 1800s

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Aug 02/02) - Memorial plaques for members of the Hardisty and Taylor families were found by accident on Thursday.

Two village employees were digging near Tim and Janice McClelland's lot on Mackenzie Drive when they discovered the brass plates less than a metre below ground.

The inscriptions, still legible, indicate one plaque was for James Lockharth Hardisty, a one-month-old baby who died in 1858. The other was dedicated to Emmeline Taylor, wife of Nicolas Taylor, who was 43 at the time of her death in 1866.

The warped plaques, which measure approximately 30x35 centimetres, were taken to the village office. Word quickly spread and many people have since dropped by to view them.

Bernice Swanson, Fort Simpson's senior administrative officer, said village council will decide what is to be done with the plaques. It's possible council will turn them over to the Anglican Church, she noted.

Steven Rowan, a member of the Fort Simpson Historical Society, said he believes the recently discovered plaques are the same type as ones currently stored in the basement of St. David's Anglican Church. The church once had a custom of selling memorial plaques to the family of the deceased, he noted. The commemorative tablets had been displayed on the walls of old St. David's Church, which was demolished in 1931.

Why these two plaques were separated from the others is a mystery. Rowan speculates they may have been unpaid for and kept in the mission house. The mission house once stood in the area where the two plaques were found, as that area was once the Anglican compound.

The mission building was destroyed by fire in the 1890s and Rowan's theory may account for the curling of the brass plaques -- possibly from the intense heat of a fire. However, the plaques show no signs of being singed.

Rowan also noted that the plaque in honour of James Lockharth Hardisty must have been made well the infant's death because there was no Christian mission in Fort Simpson in 1858.

"There was not even a minister here then. The (old St. David's) church wasn't built until 1865," he said.

While Hardisty is a name historically connected with the local Anglican church, Rowan surmises that Emmeline Taylor's husband was an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company. Two archaeologists, who were already scheduled to visit Fort Simpson later this month, will take a look at the excavation site where the memorial plaques were found, Rowan added.