Public Archaeology in Canada

By Lea, Joanne; Smardz, Karolyn E. | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Public Archaeology in Canada


Lea, Joanne, Smardz, Karolyn E., Antiquity


Key-words: Canada, education, public programmes, Canadian Archaeological Association

The term `public archaeology' can mean many things. It can be as simple as a photocopied brochure left outside a fenced-off archaeological excavation or as complex as an elaborate series of educational programmes. For the purposes of this paper, the term `public archaeology' is used to describe those projects and programmes designed to enhance popular knowledge of and appreciation for archaeology.

Public archaeology is not a new concept in Canada. What is relatively new are the ideas that

* communication between archaeologists and the public should be an integral part of archaeological investigations, and

* the public's involvement in archaeology should go beyond watching from the fence or listening to lectures at the local museum, university or library.

The development of this new emphasis is noted below.

National political background

Canada is a nation of about 34 million people. Most live in urban centres such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, with the rest spread out, primarily along our southern border with the United States. Canada consists of ten provinces and three northern territories.

Funding for archaeology occurs at national, provincial/territorial and local levels, historically, but has been extremely limited. This constraint has been due, in part, to the fact that each provincial/territorial, federal and local group has sought funding for archaeological work from the same base of tax payers. Funding allocation was seen as an exercise in making hard choices to place limited financial resources where they could do the most good. Often this meant mitigative excavation and site preservation, at the exclusion of public programming (Burke pers. comm. 1999).

Until quite recently, much Canadian data collection has taken place in extremely isolated circumstances, with analysis results published only in professional journals and newsletters. Site locations were frequently classified government information. In fact, recent studies revealed that many members of the Canadian public continue to be entirely unaware that archaeology takes place in Canada at all (Pokotylo & Mason 1991; Pokotylo & Guppy 1991).

Federally, the Department of Canadian Heritage has been newly restructured, and the mandate redefined. The Parks Canada Agency is responsible for archaeology conducted at National Parks and Historic Sites. Its Guiding Principles and Operational Policies apply to the work of the Archaeological Services Branch and the five regional archaeology offices across Canada. Section 4 of those Guiding Principles deals with Education and Presentation. It states (Canada 1994: 17):

The provision of accurate, comprehensive and timely information is important in fostering awareness, appreciation, appropriate use and understanding and in encouraging public involvement and stewardship. This is achieved through such means as interpretation, communication, outreach, environmental education, citizenship and public participation programmes as well as through advisory committees.

This principle, however, must be weighed against the stated Cultural Resource Management Policy in the same document (1994: 100) to

ensure first and foremost the basic protection of [Canada's] cultural resources

and that

conservation activities will therefore involve the least possible intervention to achieve objectives;

all considering

available financial and human resources.

National heritage legislation beyond the policies of the Heritage Ministry and Parks Canada Agency is unlikely: the last effort to create such legislation was defeated in the House of Commons in 1994. The defeat came largely because such an act was seen to cross jurisdictions of other federal acts such as the Federal Import and Export Act and the Indian Act, and to impinge upon matters under provincial/territorial control. …

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