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What happens to Toronto's artifacts?

Millions of historic artifacts are currently housed in private archaeological sites all over the city. A public repository would bring them all under one roof, says archaeologist.

Some of the 19th century artifacts that are currently housed at Archeological Services Inc. in Toronto. The firm is helping the city create a public archaeological collections repository.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Some of the 19th century artifacts that are currently housed at Archeological Services Inc. in Toronto. The firm is helping the city create a public archaeological collections repository.

Ronald Williamson hates to see Toronto continuously throw its history into the junkyard.

One recent story got him startled. A local archaeologist had a collection of various city artifacts sitting in his apartment. When he unfortunately suffered a brain hemorrhage and died, the landlord had the objects sent into the Michigan landfill.

“These are the stories of the creation of our land. So why aren’t these stories being cared for?” said Williamson, founder and senior archaeologist at Archaeological Services Inc. “It’s unfortunate that these artifacts are scattered all over the place, and many of them are not housed in good places.”

He’s helping to change that. This week, the council’s committee on planning and growth management will consider a report on the creation of a city owned archeological collections repository.

Toronto has over 300 registered private archaeological sites, where more than two million historical artifacts are locked into boxes. A public repository would bring them all under one roof – a facility with a minimum of 12,000 square feet according to a city staff report – where they can be collaboratively and professionally managed.

Later in the fall, city staff will report back on a suitable storage and curation space for at least the next 20 years, as well as the financial implications for operating such a facility.

Williamson, whose firm has been working with the city on the project, said it’s important to put these historic objects in a place where they are publicly accessible and properly cared for.

“Put yourself in the shoes of an Indigenous person or a descendant of an Irish immigrant, and you read in the paper that all Indigenous artifacts are housed by the archeologists and not in the public repository,” he said.

“What does that say about cultural heritage reconciliation?”

Potential artifacts:

Artifacts that could find their way into the public repository include 500-year-old fragments from Indigenous ceramics, stone projectile points that were used some 600 years ago, complete bottles and dolls from the recent colonial era, the insets from the first Toronto General Hospital, and the 19th century tea cups, saucers and teapots with feathers symbolizing the Prince of Wales.

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