Sugar Cane Archaeology field assistant Brittany Cleminson, archaeologist Whitney Spearing, and field assistants Leo Michel and Marvin Bob near a depression they took samples from at the top of Pinchbeck Hill. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

VIDEO: Pre-settler evidence reviewed as Williams Lake eyes Stampede Grounds for heritage park

Sugar Cane Archaeology spent two days on Pinchbeck Hill examining the area to give information to the City in anticipation of the 153 Mile Historic Store being relocated there

Sugar Cane Archaeology uncovered some pre-1846 First Nations sites above the Stampede Grounds last week.

How exactly those discoveries will play into the City’s plans to relocate the historic 153 Mile Store and possibly create a heritage park at the site — including a First Nations component — has yet to be determined.

In 2015, brothers Roger and Rusty Patenaude told the City they wanted to gift the historical store and all its contents for permanent display in Williams Lake.

Built in 1914, the two-storey log store was used by ranchers, loggers, First Nations, and gold seekers who travelled the Cariboo Wagon Road and has been described as a Gold-Rush era time capsule.

Late 2017 the Cariboo Heritage Park Society was formed to fundraise and oversee moving the store into Williams Lake.

Read More: Historic 153 Mile Store moves closer to finding new home in Williams Lake

Last week archaeologist Whitney Spearing and three field assistants spent two days doing more than 80 site tests in the Pinchbeck Hill area above the Stampede Grounds.

“We are testing a depression feature,” Spearing told the Tribune Wednesday.

Pointing away from the hill, Spearing said her crew had identified two other sites several metres away on Tuesday that were also significant.

As she pulled out a few pieces of chert and dacite rock from separate Ziploc bags, Spearing said First Nations traditionally used both to make tools and weapons.

“We found these in the site down at the bottom of the hill in the shovel tests we did,” she said as she turned a piece of chert in her hand to show a sharp ridge on one side. “They were found roughly 30 centimetres below the surface so we know that someone hasn’t placed them here in contemporary times.”

Spearing said their findings could impact where the historic store and any other buildings are placed, but that Sugar Cane Archaeology will discuss the findings with the City.

“Our preferred method is always avoidance, but if we can’t avoid the site there are certain things we can do,” Spearing explained.

One option would be to establish one metre by one metre sections where there are people working with trowels doing systematic and detailed data recovery.

Or, instead of excavating, crews could top an area with fill, and put the buildings on top of the fill so the archaeological site is maintained underneath.

Williams Lake Indian Band established Sugar Cane Archaeology three years ago because of the four-laning project on Highway 97 .

At the time, Spearing and field technician Leo Michel were the only employees.

Today the company has grown to10 people.

Michel said he was first introduced to archaeology when he was in Grade 6.

“I was selected from the Crescent Heights Elementary School, which was eventually closed, to participate in an archaeological dig down at Stafford Ranch in the pit houses down there.”

That early start developed a taste for archaeology and an admiration of what it is like to have history, he explained.

“On my dad’s side, my dad’s great grandfather knew people who used to live underground, “ Michel said. “My dad told me stories from his great grandfather. My dad was from Soda Creek and my great grandfather lived in Alexandria.”

The most exciting dig he participated in was at Felker Lake where they found a child burial site.

The child was buried face down with 20 centimetres of artifact material on top of the burial.

“That burial was there for who knows how long? It would have been way before contact. It would have been a cultural burial.”

Michel has been working steadily in the field since 1996, although he took a few years off to work at Coyote Rock Golf Course.

Field technician Marvin Bob is in his third year and said he really enjoys finding different things.

Brittany Cleminson, originally from Ontario, moved to take a full-time field technician job with the company in April.

She finished her university degree two years ago and has been working in the field for five years. She will be starting her Masters through Simon Fraser University this fall through a correspondence course for working archaeologists.

Smiling she said the field experience she is getting by working for Sugar Cane is rare.

The fact WLIB has its own archaeological company is significant, Spearing said.

Previously archaeological work was always done by external firms and a consultant that was not local, she said.

“Now we are in this new wave of archaeology where the First Nations are forming their own companies, running their own shows and doing all their own archaeology and pushing the consultants out, which is awesome,” Spearing said. “We are at 90 per cent First Nations employment.”

During a recent visit from Girl Guides to the 153 Mile Historic store, Roger Patenaude showed the guides some hand beaded items from First Nations customers traded for goods. The items are part of the extensive 153 Mile Store collection.

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