Museum of Ontario Archaeology

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Review type

Things to do


Date of travel

August, 2018

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Travelled with

Adult family

Reasons for trip

I have been meaning to visit the “Museum of Ontario Archaeology”: for a couple of years as it is not far from where I live and last month I finally made it there with my sister who was visiting for a few days. The museum is in the middle of a subdivision so a bit off the beaten track of downtown where most of the museums are. According to its website, the museum “is dedicated to the study and public interpretation of over 11,000 years of human history in Ontario.” Next to the museum there is a reconstruction of part of a First Nations village as it would have looked in the 1500s. The longhouse is not open for viewing as it’s in a poor state of repair but you can see inside to get an idea of living conditions at the time.

The University of Western Ontario (a few minutes away) surveyed the site in 1894 and an archaeologist from the now Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto) conducted the first formal excavation of the site in 1917. However, it wasn’t until the now Museum of Civilization (Ottawa) got involved in 1921 that the site’s significance in southern Ontario was solidified and referred to as the Lawson Site, after the family who owned the land. There is a dig site that is still used by the archaeology students from Western University for their field work every year. The Lawson family donated it to Western University in 1969.

The museum is situated on the location of a 16th century Iroquoian village – a people referred to as the Attawandaron (the name also given to the street the museum is on). There is a model of their village of long houses in the museum. At its largest it was about 4.5 acres and housed 1000 people. The setting is perfectly defensive as it is on a plateau with steep grades down to the Medway River on one side and the Snake Creek on two other sides. You can still go for a walk through the woods on site but be careful to stay on the paths as there are active digs and you can easily ruin artifacts unknowingly by treading on them. We stayed clear of the woods as it was a muggy day and the mosquitoes were in biting form.

The day we were there a summer camp was underway in one of the museum rooms. It’s nice to see that children are being exposed to, and participating in, the history of the area and the skills used to learn about the past. The museum provides information learned about the inhabitants based on finds at the dig site. Their story is depicted in dioramas, murals and through artifacts on display. We also saw an interesting exhibit on pottery – different techniques over the ages. For the adventurous at heart, there is a virtual reality area where you can walk through a virtual longhouse or try your hand at archery; but be warned, if you have health issues such as vertigo, this is not for you. It costs $2/5 minutes and is only available at certain times so check the website before your visit if you want to partake.

Every year they host a maple sugar festival in the spring and a fall festival and pow wow both highlighting Indigenous art, culture and music.

It’s open from 10:30 – 4:30 every day except for Mondays from September to April. From May to August it’s open every day. The Lawson Site is open every day all year, weather permitting. Entrance fee is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors/students, $3 for children 5-12 years of age, and free for children under 5. There is a free parking lot beside the museum.

Denise Bridge

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