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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 26

The Old Fort Point Site: Fort Wedderburn II?

by Karlis Karklins

Discussion and Conclusions

The solitary 39 ft. by 24.7 ft. building at the site was probably a one-storey structure erected using a combination of post-on-sill, post-in-ground, and half-lap joint construction techniques. The roof was apparently low gabled and constructed of either slabs or "roofing sticks" chinked with mud and covered with a layer of sand probably overlaid with sheets of spruce bark held in place by horizontal poles. The floors were composed of boards and cleft planks resting on, but not nailed to, joists laid on the ground. Nails appear to have been used in the construction of the building only when absolutely necessary.

While no conclusive proof concerning the locations of doors was uncovered, it is likely that the main entrance was situated in the centre of the central room's west wall. This is suggested by three things: (1) the central room is the main one in the structure; (2) the west side of the building faces the ramp leading to the beach, and (3) the three pits on the west side of the building preclude a door elsewhere along this side. It is not known if other exterior doors existed.

As for interior doors, there had to be at least three, one leading from the central room to each of the other three. While no evidence was found for their exact location along what remained of the south interior wall, there is some evidence for a doorway in the approximate centre of the eastern segment of the north interior wall. The evidence is in the form of a rectangular mortice, in the upper centre of the eastern segment's sill log, which may have accommodated a tenoned doorjamb.

Pane glass fragments, indicative of windows, were encountered in every room. While the number and location of windows in the southeast room could not be determined because the pane glass there had no definite distribution pattern, the presence of at least one window in the west wall of each of the other three rooms was indicated by concentrations of pane fragments along this particular wall. A lack of pane glass along the other walls of these rooms suggests that other windows, at least those with glass components, did not exist.

The scarcity of the pane glass fragments (only 29 were recovered) and the isolated nature of the site suggest that a piece of moose-skin parchment with a pane of glass in its centre probably formed each window (as at Fort Reliance, N.W.T.; Back 1836: 198), rather than several glass panes mounted in a sash. However, it is quite possible that windows composed entirely of parchment were used in conjunction with the parchment/glass type and occupied walls where no evidence for glass component windows was found.

The pane glass fragments indicate that the panes in the parchment/glass windows were 1.1 mm thick on the average, and about 63 mm (2.5 in.) wide. Their length could not be determined.

Although all the chimneys at the site had collapsed, the large quantity of burned clay covering the fireplaces and the paucity of collapsed stone around them indicate that the chimneys were composed of a pole framework covered with clay. The framework presumably consisted of four vertical corner poles to which were attached closely spaced, horizontal crosspieces. The impressions of poles in some of the burned clay fragments suggest that the framework components were around 0.26 ft. in diameter.

The clay used in the construction of the chimneys and fireplaces, as well as the walls and roof of the building, was apparently obtained from a large clay deposit on the south side of Old Fort Point (Fig. 1). This deposit — marked by two irregular holes, approximately 40 to 50 ft. in diameter and up to 4 ft. deep — was the only source of clay encountered during the 1972 survey, and had been mined for many years. In light of this, it is quite probable that the deposit had provided clay for the construction of the buildings at Fort Chipewyan I, as well as all subsequent structures in the area that had clay incorporated into their fabric.

Some indication of the use of the rooms in the Old Fort Point site structure is provided by the horizontal distribution of the recovered artifacts (Table 3) and faunal remains. The concentration of cutlery, ceramic fragments, bottle glass, gunflints apparently used with strike-a-lights, and faunal remains in the central room, suggests that this room served, in part, as a kitchen and dining area. In that this room also contained the majority of the smoking paraphernalia, as well as a Jew's harp, it appears that the central room was also the primary recreation and gathering place in the building. Some of the other items, such as the musket balls, lead shot and glass beads, found in this room may represent trading activity.

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As for the north room, the artifacts indicate little except that this portion of the building was used as living quarters. The presence of a substantial number of animal bones suggests that this room may also have served as a dining area. The broken brooch found in the north room may be evidence of the presence of a woman or women at the site.

The relative scarcity of artifacts and faunal remains in the two remaining rooms suggests that they were used for little else than sleeping quarters.

Unfortunately the recovered artifacts are of types that could be encountered at several different kinds of sites (e.g., fur trade posts, wintering sites and fisheries) and, therefore, are practically of no use in determining the function of the Old Fort Point site. Furthermore, in the event that the site was a satellite establishment, such as a fishing station of one of the fur trade posts in the area, the artifacts do not indicate whether the North West Company or the Hudson's Bay Company is represented, as nothing specifically diagnostic of either concern was uncovered. Thus, the identity of the site will have to be deduced using other means.

The majority of the artifacts have either an indefinite chronological position or too great a temporal range to be of use in dating the Old Fort Point site. However, those that can be dated bracket the period from about 1810 to 1815 (Table 4); that is, all the datable artifacts would, theoretically, have been available to the occupants of the site during this period. The earliest date is the year that the type of pearlware found in the house apparently had its inception, and is probably relatively accurate. On the other hand, the 1815 date — the year that the pearlware apparently ceased to be made — is probably a little too early because this specific ceramic type may still have been in use in peripheral areas like Athabasca as late as the 1830s and 1840s. It would, therefore, be safer to say that the site was in use at some time during the period from about 1810 to 1840.

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The paucity of artifacts, as well as faunal remains, at the site suggests a short occupation, possibly only several months, or a series of brief occupations over a period of several years. Although it is not certain if the site was utilized year round, the ice creeper and the harness buckle, probably from a dog-sled rig, indicate that it was definitely in use during the winter. This is substantiated by the faunal material: the remains of two animals (the willow ptarmigan and arctic fox) which are only in the Old Fort Point area from October through April were found at the site (Anne M. Rick 1975: pers. com.). The absence of immature bird and mammal bones suggests the unlikelihood of a summer occupation. It is, therefore, possible that the site was occupied only during the winter of one or more years.

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