Identifying the origin of an antique teacup or arrowhead wasn’t new territory for the artifact experts who headed up Saturday’s “treasure clinic” at the Fort Frances Museum.
But it was the first such event of its kind here, and despite a relatively poor turnout, it was a marked success in their eyes—lending support to the theory that less is more.
Regional archaeologist Paddy Reid, who was among the experts on hand, saw the event as a learning opportunity for both the public and himself, especially when it came to artifacts that had been dug out of the ground.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a two-way street," he smiled. "Not only do I educate people but when I learn where some of these artifacts are from, I can have those sites registered and protected.”
That isn’t an overnight process though, with a whole slew of procedures needed to be put in place first.
Nonetheless, he said even the tiniest bits of pottery can offer big leads in his work, noting that roughly 1,600 archaeological sites have been registered in Northwestern Ontario in the last 24 years.
“In 1974 there were 24, now there are 1,700,” he said.
Also on hand at the experts’ table were Stacey Bruyere, curator at Kay-Nah Chi-Wha-Nung (Manitou Mounds), and mineral specialist Bill Morgenstern.
“Learning even a little bit about our history adds to anything,” noted Bruyere.
Ed Oerichbauer, director at the Koochiching County Museum in International Falls and an expert in historic native and fur trade periods, was also invited to participate in Saturday’s clinic.
He was very pleased with the event, calling it a good concept but one that will take a while to catch on with collectors.
“Obviously starting something like this takes time to build. And you can’t always count success by numbers,” he reasoned.
“People like to know what they have but they don’t know where to learn. They don’t know that there are [experts] available to offer identification.” he added.
“Once they realize that, [the event] will develop more participation,” he said.
Oerichbauer said while there is a great deal of artifact material in private hands, much of what is undiscovered has been pushed aside by progress—and most likely will never be recovered.
“We are sitting on what is one of the most important fur trade sites in North America," he argued. ”[Yet] none of the traditional posts have been identified except for the late Hudson’s Bay trading post.
“Bits and pieces have been located but there has never been an effort to go out and find these sites.”
He said the American fur trade post is under Boise Cascade in the Falls, Hudson Bay is under the Abitibi parking lot, the Northwest Company is under a subdivision, and the early posts are most likely under the sewage plant.
“Unfortunately there’s not much left . . . bits and pieces, yes, but you can never bring the [original sites] back,” he lamented.
A similar treasure clinic is slated for the Koochiching County Museum sometime in May, said Oerichbauer, with Reid and Bruyere invited to participate.
Meanwhile, Fort Frances resident Dave Brockie offered up some wise words on the importance of preserving heritage. He and his wife, Mildred, have donated a considerable array of items from their private collection to the museum as exhibit pieces.
“You’re talking to the right vintage,” he mused Monday during a brief conversation from his home.
“I believe our history is almost as important as our future," he stressed. "And anything we can do or supply to help create interest [in the past] . . . we are prepared to do that.”