Bonnechere (Canada): Discover the hidden archaeological treasures

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Many Ontario Parks offer visitors the chance to step back in time and learn about life from days gone by. But one of the cool things at Bonnechere Provincial Park, 37 km southwest of Pembroke, is that you can hold that history in the palm of your hand.

 Artifacts like:

  • An 800 A.D. projectile point, likely from a spear that was dropped along the river by indigenous people who stopped to rest on the banks of the Bonnechere River while canoeing and portaging

  • An 1859 pre-Confederation copper one cent coin bearing the name “Canada” even though our country had yet to be officially formed

  • A 19th Century writing stylus, the type used by school children to scratch out their lessons (obviously before iPads)

  • A clay vessel from the Middle Woodland Period (200 – 300 B.C. to A.D. 700 – 900), detailing a thousand-year-old tradition of ceramics used by the Woodland people

Bonnechere round lake shoreline images 700x415

These artifacts give us a glimpse into our own history and our own past,” says Bonnechere’s Natural Heritage Education Leader Josh Ibelshauser.  “They give us a lot of clues as to how people used to live and why they did what they did, especially in the Ottawa Valley area.”

For thousands of years, Aboriginal hunters, fishermen and trappers stopped along the Bonnechere River to rest or make the area their permanent home, using the river, nearby Round Lake and plentiful forests as sustenance.

 Eventually, immigrant settlers arrived and began clearing the land to begin farming and setting up logging camps.  Their stories, told through the bits and pieces that remain at Bonnechere, are an important and vital part of Ontario and Canadian history. 

 “A lot of the history here is based around these people who were the first Europeans into the woods to do the lumbering and to set up homesteads here,” says Ibelshauser.

Bonnechere drawcup

Park staff and friends of the park first began conducting formal digs at Bonnechere (under supervision from the Ontario Archaeology Society) after a former park staff member happened upon a sharp object sticking out of the ground at his cottage near the park. Eventually, experts were consulted and it was determined it was a projectile point dating back to 800 A.D. 

 That was enough to spark further explorations at Bonnechere, which unveiled a treasure trove of artifacts for all to enjoy. Many of the artifacts on display at the Visitor Centre came from:

  • The Round Lake shoreline (pieces of ancient pottery, spear tips, glass)

  • The 1800s home of Charles and Bella Lafleur (cross, ring, copper sleigh bell)

  • The Bonnechere Basin, or “The Basin” as it was known, was the primary logging depot located along the Little Bonnechere River  (a nail with a piece of board still attached, axe for cutting down trees, 20th Century spiked logging boots)

Best of bonnehcere collection 700x415

A lot of the history here at Bonnechere is based around the first nations people who first used the land for hunting and fishing, followed by the Europeans who cleared the land for farming, logging, and eventually setting up homesteads. That’s one reason why the park is here today and why people are living here today, because of those people who took the first step.  We have a responsibility to preserve their history so we can learn from it.”

If you and your family would like to see some of the cool artifacts at Bonnechere, drop by the Visitor Centre or take the Footprints in Time walk through the forest that features 13 different stopping points with information and activities.

Check out this video for more Cool Things at Bonnechere: