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More artifacts for the collection

Fort of the Forks site still remains a mystery -- or does it?

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Aug 30/02) - A two-week archaeological dig unearthed plenty of artifacts, but the exact location of Fort of the Forks is still in question at Heritage Park.

Jean-Luc Pilon, curator of Ontario archaeology for the Museum of Civilization, was in charge of the dig. He and some local volunteers found square nails from the 1800s, aged wire, bits of glass, a tiny red bead, fish bones and scales, small and large mammal bones, old rifle cartridges and a Lucky Strike orange pop can. There was also a small, round memento from Rome.

"Here we find a souvenir from St. Peter's Basilica in Rome overlooking the flats (the Papal site). It's sort of weird," Pilon remarked last Thursday.

Digging ever so carefully with spade-shaped tools called trowels, Pilon and his crew excavated a series of trenches three metres long by 50 cm wide to a maximum depth of one metre.

The upper layer of soil in some of the trenches had been disturbed years ago. Pilon surmised that Hudson's Bay Company workers once had a garden on the site.

Below that are thin layers of silt, perhaps deposited by floods, and the occasional orange-tinged seams, some containing

flecks of charcoal, likely caused by fire. There is also much clay.

The Fort Simpson Historical Society commissioned the dig because its members are planning to move the old Catholic rectory atop the site and build a foundation below. They wanted to be sure they weren't covering up the Fort of the Forks, which had been built by North West Company employees in 1802.

The outpost was shut down in 1811 when an extremely harsh winter resulted in several people starving to death -- one of those people was Pilon's ancestor, Francois Pilon.

"It's sort of interesting to come here nearly two centuries later. I'm probably the first Pilon relative of his to remember him as an individual," said Jean-Luc.

With only a few days remaining in the archaeological dig, Jean-Luc seemed to be losing his optimism that the dig would turn up something definitive.

"It's like looking for a needle in a haystack. We've got little whispers of smoke, but no idea which direction the smoking gun is," he said as he scanned the site.