Timbershed treasures

Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site

By Jeanette Cowen

“What do you do in Winter?” is a common question asked of Parks Canada staff. This winter while the Visitor Centre and lock were closed, a team of experts descended on the timbershed at the Sault Ste. Marie Canal to sort through over one hundred years of old lock parts, machinery and equipment in an effort to identify, record, and preserve important cultural resources.

Parks Canada is tasked with protecting and presenting our nation's natural and cultural heritage. In 2013 the agency renewed its cultural resource management policy and directives and this winter, staff had the opportunity to put them to the test in the timbershed.

Timbershed Treasures
Some of the treasures waiting to be relocated © Parks Canada

Historically, the timbershed at the east end of the site was the place where the heavy wooden gates were built for use in the canal. A team of experts including historians, collections specialists, cultural resource policy advisors, and curators from Parks Canada's National Office came to the canal during a snowy, cold week in early November to take on the herculean task of sorting through the items one by one.

Hundreds of artifacts from small nails to giant gears were put through an evaluation process to determine if they indeed qualified as cultural resources, defined as a human work, object or place reflecting an important aspect of human history and culture. If the answer was yes, the next step was to determine, which category of resource they represented. There are cultural resources of national historic significance, which directly relate to the site's designation as a national historic site, and then there are cultural resources of other heritage value, meaning they relate to the human history or cultural significance of the site.

In some cases, the team was assessing groups of artifacts, and decisions had to be made to retain either the whole collection or just representative samples. Most of the items were dirty, heavy and awkward to access in the crowded space, and the freezing temperatures inside and outside the building added to the challenge! Despite these obstacles, the team persevered and by the end of the week their simple yet efficient system identified the cultural resources and put a plan in place to relocate the most important pieces.

Timbershed Treasures
An amazing team – the staff who sorted, catalogued and cleaned the Timbershed © Parks Canada

Site staff were busy all winter relocating artifacts, and photographing and cataloguing items to be sent to a Parks Canada storage facility in Cornwall, where they will be properly cleaned and stored. Working with specialists on this project helped site staff gain a greater appreciation for cultural resource management and brought the Parks Canada mandate to life. Staff will certainly have no problem answering questions about how they kept busy during the winter!

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