5 October 2016




The series of digital stories about Toronto history and culture which make up this project are the work of fifty-three Master of Museum Studies (MMSt) graduate students. The project was inspired by the 2015 Myseum Intersections – Telling Toronto’s Stories and invited each storyteller to select an object from local collections which has significance to Toronto’s past and present. The objects inspired the authors to connect historical events with contemporary context so that they tell stories about the multiple intersections that happen in the city.

Musings will be posting collected stories once a cycle. We hope that, after reading the stories, you will know Toronto a little bit better. And perhaps you will find similar stories in your own objects!

Our partners for this project, to which we are extremely thankful, are:
Now, without further ado, object stories from the Archeological and Cultural Heritage Services.



Sewing pins and needles found at the homestead of Sarah Allison by the Archeological Services Inc. (ASI) provide a window into the past, to a time when many women were faced with the challenges of becoming widows. The objects date back to the nineteenth century and were found after an archaeological excavation undertaken by ASI, prior to the redevelopment of the property. 

This image of the sewing pins and thimbles found at
the nineteenth century site where the Allison family lived has been provided by
the Archaeological and Cultural Heritage Services Inc.
Who was Sarah Allison? Originally, the Allison family was from Yorkshire, England and moved to Canada in 1832, when they bought the homestead and surrounding land, located in the former township of Toronto Gore, which is now the city of Brampton. [1] Sadly, Sarah’s husband, John, passed away in 1829, leaving Sarah, mother of two, a widow. Local historian George Tavender gives an insight into the difficulty which she then faced. ‘The sudden death of her husband and his subsequent burial had left her in a state of confusion and indecision’. [2]

How did life change for Sarah Allison? Living as a widow in the nineteenth century posed many challenges to Sarah. For example, she employed a number of tactics to help the economic status of the family. [3] She rented out some of the land to members of the local community including blacksmith Edward Ashberry, who used the land for farming. But domestic work allowed Sarah to provide for her family using her creativity and some sewing pins. These old sewing pins “reflect the needlework chores that Sarah Allison and other pioneer women faced, including sewing and mending clothes for herself and her growing children”. [4] Women’s difficulties in other Canadian cities, such as Montreal, relates with the experiences and economic challenges that Sarah Allison faced in Toronto. Women all over Canada, once widowed, used the skill of sewing to generate extra income for the family. For example, “those living in St Jacques, where sewing at home for the clothing trades was a local tradition, responded to the opportunities it offered”. [5] The skill of sewing was considered necessary as it was one of “the first skills mothers taught their daughters”. [6]

What did Sarah sew? We can gain an insight into Sarah’s life from these objects, but we will never know what garments she was sewing because they did not survive. Looking to nineteenth century everyday fashion provides an idea of some of the garments which Sarah might have made. What was fashionable at that time? An image of a dress worn by a member of the Reynolds family in New Brunswick shows the wide shape of dresses during the 1830s.

Sarah Allison’s solutions to the problems which she encountered demonstrate that she adapted by providing for her family without her husband. The view of a man’s role as economic and a woman’s as domestic has changed slowly over time. Sarah Allison carried out both, but it has been difficult for women to gain equality in terms of employment. Nonetheless, Sarah’s story is one of resilience, creativity and empowerment, told through everyday objects, such as needles and pins. 

1. Archaeology Services Inc. (February 2006). ‘Stage 3 Archaeological Assessment and Stage 4 Mitigative Excavation of the Allserson (AkGW-183 site) Part of Lot 5, Concession 9, N.D, Geographic Township of Toronto Gore, City of Brampton, Regional Municipality of Peel, Ontario`. P.9.
2. Ibid p.9
3. Ibid p.10
4. Ibid p.28
5. Badbury, Bettina (1989). `Surviving as a widow in 19th-Century Montreal`. P.151
6. Errington, Jane, Elizabeth (2006). `Women and their work in Upper Canada`. P15

Works Cited
Archaeological Services Inc. (February 2006). ‘Stage 3 Archaeological Assessment and Stage 4 Mitigative Excavation of the Allerson (AkGw-183 site) Part of Lot 5, Concession 9 N.D, Geographic Township of Toronto Gore, City of Brampton, Regional Municipality of Peel, Ontario’. Licence report, pdf document. Pp.1-89.

Badbury, Bettina (1989). ‘Surviving as a Widow in 19th-Century Montreal’. Urban History Review, Vol 17, No.3, p.148-160. Retrieved from: http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/1017628ar

Canadian Museum of History (2015). ‘An Online Exhibition of Canadian Dress: The Confederation Era (1840-1890). Online website, found at: http://www.historymuseum.ca/confederationdress/womens-wear/everyday-clothing.php

Errington, Jane, Elizabeth (2006). ‘Women and their work in Upper Canada’. Historical Booklet, The Canadian Historical Association, Ottawa. Pp.1-52. Retrieved from: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/cha-shc/008004-119.01-e.php?&b_id=H-64&ps_nbr=1&brws=y&&PHPSESSID=0q650fcedg1vgdfc495cmu4u35.



When thinking about Toronto’s early occupants, we often forget an important part of the family, the pets. Yet, just like you, Torontonians of the past also owned pets. In fact, Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI) uncovered evidence of a 150-year-old dog burial right on King Street West. We may not have records of the dog’s name, but we do know the Bell family likely owned him.

Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI). (2011). Bell Site lot 27 component fully exposed, looking west.
Western wing of the structure. Image is courtesy of Archaeological Services Inc.
 In 2011, ASI was contracted to excavate the Bell Site to determine if there was anything of historical significance to be excavated before demolition and urban development could begin. In the 1800s, the Bell Site was part of the city’s expansion, and now in the 2000s the same site is part of Toronto’s development in the form of a new residential building. Originally part of Fort York, the site was incorporated into the Town of York, later called Toronto, when more space was needed for the growing city. [1] Thomas Bell Jr., the son of one of the first families to settle in the Town of York, purchased the land in 1840. [2] The Bell family owned the land until 1870, a few years after the deaths of Bell and his wife Katherine. Various redevelopments took place over the following years, eventually turning the site into a motel and parking lot in the 1960s. [3]

During the excavation, ASI found archaeological materials representing the many different periods of occupation, such as dishware fragments, buttons, and coins. [4] One of the most interesting finds was a dog burial from between 1840 and 1870. This corresponds to the time that the Bell family owned the land, which most likely means it was their dog. But what was he like and what was his role within the Bell family? 

Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI). (2011). Bell Site lot 83 dog burial.
Scale bars display 10 cm intervals, trowel points north.
Image is courtesy of Archaeological Services Inc.
Some experts believe that looking at these types of burials can “significantly contribute to our understanding of human-dog relationships in the mid-19th century.” [5] Analysis of its bones and teeth helped experts solve some of the mysteries about this dog’s life. Not only was he old, he was also massive—about the same size as a Newfoundland or Great Dane—so he was definitely not a lap dog. The bones also reveal that he had many health issues. He was probably partially deaf, tilted his head to the side, shook and scratched a lot, limped, and had smelly breath. [6]

What was his purpose within the family? He was not a farm or fighting dog, but he did have a role, probably helping with hunting, protection, or just keeping the family company. [7] Bits of metal found on the bones mean he probably wore a collar. [8] When he became old and sick, he would have needed lots of care from his family. What was he actually like? Did he chase squirrels or beg for table scraps? We have records of people, but we may never know details about their pets. However, stories like this one show us that even 150 years ago dogs were important members of the family.

1. Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI). (2012). Stage 4 salvage excavation of the Bell Site (AjGu-68), 621 King Street West, Lots 11 and 12, South Side of King Street. Registered plan D-82 and part of Lots 4 and 5, Section M, Military Reserve, City of Toronto, Ontario. Unpublished report on file at Archaeological Services Inc., Toronto. p. 1.
2. Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI), p. 2.
3. Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI), p. 1-2.
4. Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI).
5. Tourigny, E., Thomas, R., Guiry, E., Earp, R., Allen, A., Rothenburger, J. L., Lawler, D., & Nussbaumer, M. (2015). An osteobiography of a 19th-century dog from Toronto, Canada. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, published online in Wiley Online Library. DOI: 10.1002/oa.2483. p. 2.
6. Tourigny et al., p. 4.
7. Tourigny et al., p. 9.
8. Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI), p. 40.



In 1806, Daniel Horner Sr. and his family moved from Pennsylvania into a one-storey log cabin on 200 acres of farmland in Markham, Ontario. Nine people from three different generations lived in a cabin for years while they started fresh in their new country.

In 2013, Daniel Horner’s homestead was excavated by Archaeological Services Inc, revealing a large number of kitchen related artefacts. One particular object, a two tined fork with an antler handle, was particularly interesting since it looks like something I’ve used while barbequing. The fork is made of one piece of steel with a long ‘rattail’ that is encased by the hollow bone or wood handle. According to Thomas Kenyon at the Ontario Archaeology Society, the two tined fork was actually as common as the three tined fork more commonly known today.

19th Century Twin Tined Fork, circa 1800. Unknown Maker.
Bone handle and steel tang.
Daniel Horner Homestead, Markham, Ontario (Source: ASI, 2013)

This type of fork would have been used during every meal, giving us a peek into the everyday life of a 19th century Canadian family and the routine of their meals. From kitchen objects like this fork, we can look at the quality and the materials used to gain an idea of how the family lived.

Stemmed Glassware from Daniel Horner homestead (Source: ASI, 2013)

Since there was a mixture of fine quality and ordinary pearlware and creamware found at the site, most likely the Horners would have been an aspiring middle class family. As people started to define their class based on their professions and incomes, “how-to” manuals of etiquette taught them how to behave. The most popular etiquette manual at the time, Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management was comprised of 2,270 pages and was so popular in Britain that editions were published in other corners of the empire, including Toronto.

In the Victorian era, observing proper meal etiquette was very important. In fact, it was thought to be essential to producing healthy, balanced and well-behaved children. Meals were used as occasions to teach children how to speak to adults, eat properly, and learn social courtesies. Meals taken at regular times organized the day and gave structure to the family. Those who did not follow these mealtime rules were thought to push children to rebel and were seen as a failing on the part of the women of the household. As Mrs. Beeton would say, breakfast safeguards “the moral and physical welfare of mankind”.

Order of the Household
(Source: Isabella Beeton,1907)

Families like the Horners would have consulted Mrs. Beeton’s on how to serve the dishes, in which order and direction, proper mealtimes, and the amount of space for each person at the table, which was precisely 24 inches. It is not known if the Horner family employed domestic servants, like their British counterparts, but given their mid-level social status, it is unlikely. Without servants, I can only imagine that feeding 9 people three times a day would have been an important full-time job for the Horner women.

Are there any dining rules or rituals that you follow in your family?

Archaeological Services Inc. (2014). Stage 4 Salvage Excavation of the Daniel Horner Site (AlGu-476), 9920 and 9940 Leslie Street, Part of Lot 20, Concession 2, Geographic Township of Markham, Now the Town of Richmond Hill Regional Municipality of York, Ontario: Original Report. Toronto: Author.

Beeton, Isabella. (1907). Mrs. Beeton's household management: a guide to cookery in all branches : daily duties, menu making, mistress & servant, home doctor, hostess & guest, sick nursing, marketing, the nursery, trussing & carving, home lawyer. London: Ward, Lock.
Kenyon, T. (2001) 19th Century Notes 1980-1988. Toronto: Ontario Archaeology Society London Chapter.

Stewart, Martha. Collecting Creamware and Pearlware Pottery. Retrieved October 28, 2015 from: http://www.marthastewart.com/912094/collecting-creamware-and-pearlware-pottery

United States Government. (1830). United States Census 1830: Somerset, Pennsylvania. Retrieved October 28, 2015 from https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-25127-45222-83



Copper fish hook from the Graham Site
(64.0mm in length; the throat 33.2 mm in length and the gape 29.2 mm in length).
Archaeological Services Inc 2003

This copper fishhook comes from a far away time and place. It was neither formed with modern tools and techniques, nor with the same worldview as the European-made ones. Its copper was mined from either the Lake Superior Basin or in glacial deposits and stream beds before it was heated, softened and then cold-hammered into shape [1] with a stone hammer and anvil, [2] which was never done prior to European Contact. [3] Part of the eye for threading the line remains and "as with modern fish hooks, the throat and gape measurements (i.e. the space inside the hook) are very similar". [4] This utilitarian objects hides some very exciting stories, the stuff of legend.

According to some legends of the Algonquian language group, [5] Mishupishu or Mishipiziheu was a horned panther or underwater lion who controlled the sources of native copper. The lion’s horns, the legend goes, were themselves a source of copper available only for those who allied with it. [6] It could cause great harm, but also aid in hunting and warfare. [7] Other groups, such as the Kickapoo, Iroquois and Huron-Wendat also have about a similar panther that might be viewed as harmful or similarly ambiguous. [8]

The fishhook was found at the Graham Site in Caledon, [9] Ontario during an excavation by Archaeological Services Inc. [10] in advance of redevelopment of the property. The site is likely of spiritual significance dating to the Meadowood Complex [11] (1,000-400 BC) and this fishhook was found along with a large assemblage of stone and copper artifacts. [12] This discovery is a telling example of the historical and contemporary intersections between the cultures of Indigenous and First Nations communities, their descendants, and the lands of the Greater Toronto Area, of which Caledon [13] is an important part.

While the metalwork of Mesoamerica and South America [14] are better known and documented, the knowledge of similar works produced by Ontario Indigenous groups is not. Stone, wood, hide and pottery are perhaps better known, but the work with metal and the legends inspired by it remains to be uncovered. In Ontario, copper has been found in many the different periods and among the archaeological remains of different Aboriginal communities. [15] As ASI's Andrea Carnevale notes: " The earliest archaeologically dated occurrence of copper in Ontario is approximately 2750 BC, found at the Morrison Island-6 site in the Ottawa River, but that does not mean there isn’t earlier. ". [16] Toronto's past extends far before the time the British founded it as the Town of York, [17] though this is not always recognized [18] and the complex stories that exist in the objects found across our city [19] are forgotten.

1. Archaeological Services Inc. 2005.
2. LaRonge 2001.
3. Archaeological Services Inc. 2005.
4. Archaeological Services Inc. 2005: 8.
5. Algonquian Treaty Negotiation Funding Trust. 2013.
6. Fox 2004
7. ibid
8. ibid
9. The Corporation of the Town of Caledon n.d.
10. Archaeological Services Inc. 2005.
11. Canadian Museum of History n.d.
12. Archaeological Services Inc. 2005.
13. Peel Region 2012.
14. Jones, et al. 1985.
15. Wright 1972.
16. Carnevale (Personal Communication) 2015.
17. City of Toronto n.d.
18. Mangione 2014
19. Royal Ontario Museum 2015.

Algonquian Treaty Negotiation Funding Trust. (2013). Our Proud History. Retrieved from http://www.tanakiwin.com/algonquins-of-ontario/our-proud-history/

Archaeological Services Inc. (2005). A Stage 3 and 4 Archaeological Investigation of Site AkGx-40 and the Graham Site (AkGx-41) Sewage Treatment Plant and Borrow Pit Areas Part of West Half of Lot 2, Concession 1, W.H.S. Geographic Township of Caledon Now in the Town of Caledon Regional Municipality of Peel, Ontario. (Graham Site Report). Retrieved from http://asiheritage.ca/publication/graham-site/

Canadian Museum of History. (n.d.). Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Culture (Precis, Chapter 23). Retrieved from http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/archeo/hnpc/npvol23e.shtml

Carnevale, A. (2015). Personal Communication.

City of Toronto. (n.d.). The History of Toronto. Retrieved from http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=ac418d577e312410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD

Mangione, K. (2014). Timeline: 180 years of Toronto history. Retrieved from http://toronto.ctvnews.ca/timeline-180-years-of-toronto-history-1.1717785

LaRonge, M. (2001). An Experimental Analysis of Great Lakes Archaic Copper Smithing. North American Archaeologist, 22(4), pp. 371-385.

Royal Ontario Museum (2015). Exhibitions and Galleries: Toronto Underfoot. Retrieved from https://www.rom.on.ca/en/exhibitions-galleries/exhibitions/toronto-underfoot

The Corporation of the Town of Caledon. (n.d.). Town of Caledon. Retrieved from http://www.caledon.ca/en/index.asp

Jones, J., Kerr, J., Montebello, P., Muller, P.E., Snarkskis, M.J., Cook, R.G., Bray, W., Plazas, C., Falchetti, A.M, Muro, P.C., Shimada, I., King, H.(1985). The Art of Pre-Columbian Gold: The Jan Mitchell Collection. New York. Retrieved from http://www.metmuseum.org/research/metpublications/The_Art_of_Precolumbian_Gold_The_Jan_Mitchell_Collection#

Wright, J.V. (1972). Ontario Prehistory: an eleven-thousand-year archaeological outline. Ottawa: National Museum of Man.

Fox, W.A. (2004). Horned Panther and Erie Associates. In J.V. Wright and J. Pilon (Eds.), A Passion for the Past: Papers in Honour of James F. Pendergast (Mercury series, Archaeology Survey of Canada. Mercury Series Paper 164) (pp. 283-304). Gatineau: Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Peel Region. (2012). Peel Region Within the Greater Toronto Area. Retrieved from https://www.peelregion.ca/planning/officialplan/pdfs/offplan2014/figure-1-oct2012.pdf

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