[Tim Compeau narrates] The story of the War of 1812 is often hidden underground at thousands of sites whether they were encampments battlefields or former villages. Organizations like the Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation (CARF) in Kingston, [Ontario] help unearth these important stories. Senior archaeologist Jeff Siebert told about their current project digging through the remains of a War of 1812 hospital.
[Jeff Siebert] This site was built towards the end of the War of 1812. It was built to try to take over from some of the aid facilities that were in town that were not directly tied to the naval dockyards. And also take some of the pressure off the boats out in the harbor that would have been used for hospital ships or something along those lines.
It was built to deal with injured seamen primarily that would have been, I guess more often than not based on sort of our consultation with historians, injured in the line of duty but not necessarily in combat. You know, the sort of various things that can happen either a) on a ship, or b) while over at the dockyards building ships. So, it could also be things like malaria, different types of disease—cholera, typhus, things that you know often would happen in sort of close quarters in the early 19th century.
We found what looks like a flagstone foundation which corresponds to the historical accounts of the naval hospital. The hospital itself is supposed to be built on a flagstone or limestone foundation and was supposed to be a frame wooden structure built up out of that.
So we found a building where the footprint corresponds almost exactly to the naval hospital.
We found a series of artifacts to kind of support that as well. Things like nails from the time period, hinges, all those kinds of things that sort of suggest structural remains, that were likely torn down and removed later on.
In addition to that, we found the kind of stuff you expect to find from an early 19th century archaeological site—things like bits of broken pottery from the time period, as well as some butchered animal bones, and we found what we think might be a musket ball, it’s pretty badly beaten up.
CARF is a non-profit agency that was set up initially, at least, to excavate the Fort Frontenac remains that are found down around the K-Rock Centre and the contemporary Canadian forces installation that's referred to as Fort Frontenac.
The educational component is the main focus of the organization. It’s things like our summer experience program, the Can You Dig It? program, our museum, various educational programs and sort of related stuff like that, that forms the backbone of our mandate and why the organization exists.
The most interesting thing about this site is that it was believed for years and entered into Kingston folklore, the folklore of RMC, that the commandant's house was the naval hospital.
Through a combination of doing this archaeological work, and looking at the historical documentation, looking at historical maps, working with historians we’ve determined that indeed wasn’t the case. That the commandant’s house was almost certainly the surgeon’s house, and that the naval hospital was effectively lost for about 140–150 years after it was torn down. So in a lot of ways these excavations actually add something to the history of the area, as opposed to just going back and examining something that’s been looked at before or a way of finding something that we already knew. I think that's the most interesting thing.
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