Just another day for archaeology

Recent construction activity in downtown St. John’s around Temperance Street has generated a lot of interest in archaeology. There have been at least three stories on various media websites as well as reports on the radio and the local evening news. I suspect this heightened interest is due to the recent demolition of two historic homes in St. John’s. As a result, everybody seems hyper-aware of any construction related activity and its potential impact on heritage. While the removal of the homes was outside the jurisdiction of the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO), any below ground activity that could disturb an archaeological site, particularly in the oldest part of the city, is exactly what the PAO is here for.

In St. John’s there is an agreement between the PAO and the City. In 1997 the St. John’s accepted a recommendation from their Planning Committee stating that they would notify the PAO of any development in the downtown in an area deemed to have significant potential for archaeological resources. The area extends from Springdale Street to Temperance Street, from Duckworth Street down to the harbour front and includes the Southside and Quidi Vidi Lake.

Prior to the 1997 agreement between the PAO and the City of St. John’s, archaeology in downtown St. John’s was well represented with nearly 20 recorded sites in the area deemed to have significant archaeological potential. Those sites include:

  • Newman Wine Vaults (CjAe-01) – Wine storage vaults used from the 18th century
  • Anchor Point 1 (CjAe-03) – Military fortifications, the construction of which began as early as the late 17th Century.  It was destroyed and reconstructed several times up to the 19th Century
  • Duckworth Street East (CjAe-15) – This site contains a portion of Fort William which dates to the 17th century
Interior of the Newman Wine Vaults prior to excavation in 1973 (Barakat)
Interior of the Newman Wine Vaults prior to excavation in 1973 (Barakat 1973)
Excavating floor of the Newman Wine Vaults to in 1973 showing remains of wooden floor (Barakat)
Excavated floor of the Newman Wine Vaults in 1973 showing remains of wooden floor (Barakat 1973)

Prior to the 1997 agreement between the PAO and the City of St. John’s there was a decent understanding of the archaeology in downtown St. John’s. Since the agreement, our understanding has only gotten better. In the area deemed to have significant archaeological potential there are now more than 80 recorded archaeological sites. What follows is a brief summary of some of those sites.

In 2000, the Grand Concourse Authority proposed to construct a lookout and rest area at Waldegrave Battery (Fort Waldegrave) (CjAe-36) overlooking St. John’s harbour. A highlight of the rest stop would be the remnants of the stone parapet surrounding one of the gun positions from the 1810 battery. Prior to construction an archaeological assessment was conducted on the site to determine whether buried cultural resources would be impacted by the proposed work. Structural remains of military emplacements dating between 1810 and 1916 were discovered beneath several fill deposits dating to the 20th century. Using the information gained from the archaeological investigation, the Grand Concourse Authority altered the original design of the rest area so the newly discovered structural features could be incorporated into the rest stop design (Mills 2001).

Interior of Waldegrave Battery showing the 1916 gun platform on right and the cement platform in centre
Interior of Waldegrave Battery showing the 1916 gun platform on right and the cement platform in centre (Mills 2001)

The remains of the 17th century Fort Frederick, (Frederick’s Battery) (CjAe-37) are found across the Narrows of St. John’s Harbour from Waldegrave Battery. In 2003 this area was proposed as a location for the Fort Amherst Community Cultural Centre by the Grand Concourse Authority. The location fell within the area deemed to have significant archaeological potential and an archaeological assessment was carried out. As a result of the assessment portions of walls inside Fort Frederick were found and the Grand Concourse Authority altered the plans for Fort Amherst Community Cultural Centre to ensure the remaining resources were protected (Mills 2004).

Water colour of "HARBOUR, TOWN AND NARROWS OF ST. JOHN'S, NEWFOUNDLAND" by Major General Sir John Harvey, circa 1845. (Image courtesy of Parks Canada, ref. 3 19008XII)
Water colour of “HARBOUR, TOWN AND NARROWS OF ST. JOHN’S, NEWFOUNDLAND” by Major General Sir John Harvey, circa 1845. (Image courtesy of Parks Canada, ref. 3 19008XII) (Mills 2004)
Masonry wall exposed during testing of the area in 2003
Masonry wall exposed during testing of the area in 2003

The Harbour Interceptor Sewer project in St. John’s has been a boon for archaeology. Throughout the whole project, the City of St. John’s and the construction company worked with archaeologists and supported their work. As a result of this multi-year project nearly 60 archaeological sites were added to the Provincial Archaeological Site Inventory in the area of downtown deemed to have significant archaeological potential. Two of those sites have 17th century components, 18 have 18th century components and the rest are at least 19th century.

Water Street East 14 (CjAe-87) is located at the extreme eastern end of Water Street, at the base of Temperance Street. Secure cultural strata were investigated at the western boundary of the site, opposite the northwest corner of the St. John’s Port Authority building. Cultural materials from two separate 17th to early 18th century components were found (Penney 2008).

View of CjAe-87, from just below Battery Road (Penney 2008)
View of CjAe-87, from just below Battery Road (Penney 2008)
Base sherds from a Spanish heavy jar from CjAe-87 (Penney 2008)
Base sherds from a Spanish heavy jar from CjAe-87 (Penney 2008)

Riverhead, St. John’s Test Trench 3 (CjAe-55) was recorded during initial testing for the Harbour Interceptor Sewer in 2004. The site is located on the southern side of Water Street from the east side of Springdale Street to Hutchings Lane. Its most extensive aspect is a “fish flake layer” at 1.6-1.7 m depth below surface, dating to the late 18th to early 19th century. Three features were recorded; two foundations and a stone-walled sewer (Penney 2010).

View of south profile, CjAe-55, with two flake layers (Penney 2010)
View of south profile, CjAe-55, with two flake layers (Penney 2010)
Base and partial bowl from a late 18th early 19th century wine glass. Lot 8, CjAe-55 (Penney 2010)
Base and partial bowl from a late 18th early to 19th century wine glass. Lot 8, CjAe-55 (Penney 2010)

While all of the interest from the media and public in archaeology over the last little while has been great, the events and discoveries on Temperance Street are just another day for the PAO and the archaeology of St. John’s. Artifacts and walls have been found at Temperance Street which have been measured, recorded and photographed in accordance with standard archaeological practices. Parts of the foundations of the Standard Manufacturing Company and Matchless Paint Factory have been found which was constructed around 1902, and demolished in the late 20th century. Archaeologists have found parts of the A. Harvey and Co. buildings (a grist mill, biscuit factory, warehouses and offices) which were built around 1865 and lasted until the Great Fire of 1892. Prior to the 19th century it appears there was little development in the area and the archaeology seems to agree with that.

East end of Water Street, mid 1880s, showing Maggotty Cove. The two large buildings (A. Harvey and Co.) at far right are within the study area. The catwalk crossing Water Street is visible (CSJA 1-11-001) (Penney 2015)
East end of Water Street, mid 1880s, showing Maggotty Cove. The two large buildings (A. Harvey and Co.) at far right are within the study area. The catwalk crossing Water Street is visible (CSJA 1-11-001) (Penney 2015)
Various foundations found at Temperance Street in the last few weeks
Various foundations found at Temperance Street in the last few weeks

Having said all that, no agreement or process is perfect, unexpected discoveries happen. So if you see something that you think the PAO should be aware of, please don’t hesitate to contact them.


BARAKAT, Robert  1973  Report of an Archaeological Excavation at the Newman Wine Vaults, St. John’s, NF.

MILLS, Stephen  2001  Stage 2 Archaeological Assessment of Waldegrave Battery (CjAe-36), St. John’s, Newfoundland.

MILLS, Stephen  2004  Stage 1 HRA of Frederick’s Battery (CjAe-37), St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. 03.50

PENNEY, Gerald 2008 Construction-Excavation Monitoring Harbour Interceptor Sewer, Phase III St. John’s.  08.03

PENNEY, Gerald 2010 Harbour Interceptor Sewer Project, Phase I Construction – Excavation Monitoring 2008-09. 08.39 and 09.01.

PENNEY, Gerald 2015 Water Street-Temperance Street (CjAe-140) Historic Resources Overview Assessment Additional Geo-technical Monitoring, 2014 Archaeological Investigation Permits #14.32 and#14.32.01

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