Brock University: Brock students, volunteers uncovering St. Catharines’ maritime past at local dig

New discoveries are already being made at the historic Shickluna Shipyard in downtown St. Catharines — and volunteers are being invited to join in the experience.

The second season of the archaeological dig near Twelve Mile Creek got underway last week after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re thrilled to return to the Shickluna Shipyard and share in the experience of exploring local historical and maritime archaeology with our Brock University students and the wider Niagara community,” says archaeologist Kimberly Monk, Adjunct Professor with Brock University’s Department of History.

The 2022 field school is building on the success of the 2019 season, with further excavation of two key locations: a worker’s cottage and a boathouse. The site was first used as a shipyard by Russell Armington from 1828 to 1837 and then by Maltese immigrant Louis Shickluna from 1838 to 1880. Joseph Shickluna was the last to run the shipyard from 1880 to 1891 before it was leased to the St. Catharines Box and Basket Company until 1901.

“The 2019 season provided an opportunity to examine the first physical evidence from this important Great Lakes shipyard,” says Monk.

The team, she adds, was able to excavate down to the years spanning 1830 to 1940 and are looking forward to excavating more features and artifacts this season.

Volunteers are still welcome to join field school students. No archaeological experience is needed to volunteer in the lab, where artifacts are carefully cleaned and catalogued. Previous field school or on-site training is required for those wishing to assist in excavation.

Ben Riopelle, a Brock History student beginning his third year this fall, is excited to be a part of the field school, where he hopes to soak in all he can about archaeology after being inspired by a course he took with Monk last year.

“It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it,” he says. “This isn’t something you can really experience any other place, especially if you’re from the area. It’s a good place to learn local history, especially since Shickluna Shipyard is such an important part of St. Catharines’ past.”

The field school has attracted participants from across Canada and even around the world.

Miranda Gardner, who is doing a part-time archaeology degree with Cambridge University in the U.K., recently moved back to Canada from Mexico. She was excited to discover an archaeology field school happening close to where she has family living.

“I wanted to do something in the field because we don’t get to learn in person yet at Cambridge,” she says, while encouraging potential volunteers to take advantage of the opportunity. “Someone will help you figure out what to do and it’s always more fun to jump in when learning something new.”

The Shickluna Shipyard offers a significant connection to St. Catharines’ industrial past and the history of the Welland Canal.

“We are eager to continue our work in reconnecting with the legacies of St. Catharines’ maritime community,” says Monk, noting the major role the marine industry played in the development of the Niagara region.

Excavations at the site continue until Aug. 12. Members of the public are invited to visit the site during a series of open house events on Aug. 10, 13 and 14, with more details to follow in the coming weeks.