Oh the thinks you can think! – Trinity and Ryan’s Store

Within five kilometres of the community of Trinity there are 39 recorded archaeological sites. These include sites with European (English, French) and European descendant components (Newfoundlander) dating from the 18th to the 20th centuries. There are also a few sites with Precontact components and one with a Dorset Palaeoeskimo component.

Known archaeological sites within 5km of Trinity
Known archaeological sites within 5km of Trinity

Those sites include the remains of an English civil fort constructed during Queen Anne’s war which dates from 1702 – 1713. The site includes the remains of several buildings such as a house and a barn as well as traces of an earthen parapet wall and a number of bastions.

Structure from English civil fort constructed during Queen Anne’s war
Structure from English civil fort constructed during Queen Anne’s war

At Fort Point there is another major English fortification built in 1745/46.  The structures were abandoned and reused several times up to about 1815.  The site also has a Dorset Palaeoeskimo component. Various European structures and earthworks, including a storekeeper’s hut, gun batteries, a gunner’s hut and the remains of a stone military foundation have been identified.

Fort Point
Fort Point

There are underwater sites in the area including several shipwrecks and a few artifact scatters that would have come from old finger piers or objects falling over the sides of ships. At least three of the shipwrecks date to the 20th century but there is another wreck near Fort Point that is thought to date to the 18th century. This vessel is believed to be the Speedwell, a British merchant vessel, which was lost in ice in 1781. This site was partially excavated over several years by members of the Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society (NMAS) in the late 1970s.

Speedwell anchor (NMAS)
Speedwell anchor (NMAS)

There was a whaling factory in the early 20th century at Maggotty Cove south of Fort Point. In 1904 the Atlantic Whaling and Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (Job Brothers of St. John’s) built a substantial whaling factory at Maggotty Cove. In its period of operation, the factory processed a total of 472 whales taken by its two catchers, the Fin and the Hump. The factory closed in 1914.

Maggotty Cove whaling factory
Maggotty Cove whaling factory

Perhaps the largest and most complex series of sites in the Trinity area are those associated with the various mercantile firms which operated on the Trinity waterfront from the early 1700s to the early 1900s. Through those centuries the firms were run by the Taverners, Lesters, Garlands and Lester-Garlands and in the twentieth century the Ryan Brothers. In Trinity today the firms are represented by the Lester-Garland Counting House and the Garland (Ryan) Shop. Several of these buildings have been reconstructed and are part of the Provincial Historic Site system in Trinity.

Archaeological work has been conducted several times at the Lester-Garland premises over the years. We have learned though archaeology and historic documentation that the current standing building (reconstructed) is a three story Georgian style brick house modeled after the original which was constructed around 1819-1821. From archaeology in particular we have learned that within and under the ruins of this house is the foundation of the Lester house constructed in 1760 and possibly earlier remains. Archaeology work was first conducted on the site in 1993 before the structure was rebuilt. Since then the site was revisited for various reasons archaeologically nearly 10 times.

1993 excavation within and under the Lester-Garland building.
1993 excavation within and under the Lester-Garland building. Portions of the original early 19th century brick walls are still standing (McAleese)
Lester-Garland building today
Lester-Garland building today

The Lester-Garland building is reasonably well understood from an archaeological stand point. The same cannot be said of the Ryan’s store. There were excavations at the building in 1978, conducted by a Memorial University of Newfoundland archaeology graduate student. Unfortunately the student never completed the graduate program.

A 1940 photo looking at the Lester-Garland building in the back (left) and the Ryan's store building (back, red roof)
A 1940 photo looking at the Lester-Garland building in the back (left) and the Ryan’s store building (back, red roof)

In the intervening years it seems as though the graduate student’s notebooks and maps were misplaced. However, there are a tremendous assortment of artifacts in storage at the Rooms. Most of the artifacts appear to have been labeled and catalogued.

Fortunately there are 13 slides from the excavations which have been scanned and converted to an electronic format. Using these slides and the catalogue sheets I believe a map of the excavation units could be reconstructed.

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In total for the Ryan’s store site, there are some photos of the excavations, a lot of artifacts and most of the original catalogue forms. Taken together with the extensive historic documentation available for these mercantile establishments, including numerous diaries written in the 18th and 19th centuries, much information could still be learned about this important site. In a shameless plug at furthering research at this site I’ll end with this – if only there was an enterprising young archaeology or history student willing to take on this incomplete project. To quote Dr. Seuss ‘Oh the thinks you can think!’

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