Introduction to Natural and Cultural History

In 1996, Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI) and Unterman McPhail Cuming Associates (UMCA) in association with Historica Research Limited (HRL) were retained by the former Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth to conduct an assessment of cultural heritage resources that may be impacted by the North-South Section of the Red Hill Creek Expressway.


In total, 22 archaeological sites were identified during assessment of the Red Hill Valley corridor. Thirteen of these – eight pre-contact Indigenous/Onkwehonwe sites and five Euro-Canadian historic sites – were discovered and thoroughly documented.




The proceeding picture, artifact images and  interpretive text extracts are provided courtesy of Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI). For more information on the artifacts, please contact Claire van Neirop, ASI Manager of Communications by email at cvannierop@iasi.to or phone 416-966-1069 ex. 225.




The Ancient Environment of the Red Hill Valley

The Red Hill Valley is an environmental feature associated with the Niagara Escarpment – the most prominent landscape feature in Southern Ontario. It was formed over 500 to 400 million years ago during the Paleozoic Era, during a period when Ontario was covered by warm, shallow water.  


The environment as it was known to the first humans in the valley had its beginnings at the start of the last major continental glaciation around 75,000 years ago. The three-kilometre thick continental glacier, known as the Laurentide Ice Sheet, gradually flowed southward for thousands of years, reaching its maximum southerly extent in Ohio around 20,000 years ago. When that ice finally began to withdraw and melt around 14,000 years ago, it left behind a complex layer of glacial deposits across the province – deposits that can still be seen in the valley.




For a short time after this, Southern Ontario was carpeted by tundra vegetation – the kind of environment we see in the subarctic region of Canada today. Huge meltwater lakes appeared after the ice melted, and the people that came to live on their shores would have pursued animals such as caribou, mastodon and mammoths that roamed freely around the lake’s edges.



This tundra-like environment was eventually replaced by an open-spruced parkland and then was gradually replaced by mixed needle and broadleaf forest roughly 8,000 years ago. By this stage, the elephant species (mammoths) had become extinct, but people living in the region continued to hunt game such as moose, deer, elk and beaver, as well as game birds such as wild turkey and ruffed grouse.


Human Occupation of the Red Hill Valley



The cultural history of the Red Hill Creek Parkway corridor mirrors that described for the watershed region and the rest Southern Ontario: it began approximately 13,000 years ago and continues to the present.  Due to the diversity and richness of its natural environment, the region in which the Red Hill Valley Parkway lies has attracted human habitation from the time of the first arrival of people to Ontario. A review of the pre-contact history of the area is important, as there tends to be less widespread awareness of the general knowledge of the societies that inhabited Ontario prior to the onset of Euro-Canadian settlement.


** Click on artifact images below to display high resolution enlargement!


13,000 to 12,000 Years Ago

While the arrival of small hunting bands in Ontario has not been accurately dated, it is thought that humans arrived sometime after the draining of several large meltwater lakes which isolated southern Ontario until approximately 14,000 years ago. Radiocarbon dates from sites around Ontario suggest that the earliest ones date between approximately 13,000 and 12,500 years ago.


IMG_0250Evidence concerning these people is very limited since populations were not large and because little of the sparse material culture of these nomadic hunters has survived the millennia. Virtually all that remains are the tools and by-products of their flaked stone tool industry – the hallmark being large, fluted projectile points (see artifact – click on image for enlargement). Given the tundra-like environment they lived in during this period and the location of their hunting camps on the shores of large post-glacial lakes, archaeologists postulate that these hunting bands strategically placed their camps in positions that afforded views from which to spot and intercept migrating caribou herds.


In addition to the fact that archaeological evidence of these early hunting camps is hard to come by because of their size, sites that were located next to post-glacial lakes may have since been engulfed by water, as many modern lakes appear to have swallowed a number of ancient waterways. This means that many sites are now submerged and almost impossible to discover.


The Red Hill Valley archaeological investigations yielded one unique site dating to around 13,000 years ago – the Mount Albion West site. 


12,000 to 3,000 Years Ago


The sites from this period, just like the period before it, are often identified on the basis of the recovery of isolated projectile points. Recent environmental data suggest that a deciduous forest cover had been established in southern Ontario by about 9,500 years ago and that the nomadic hunter-gatherers of this period exploited deer, moose and other animals, as well as fish and some plant resources. Archaeological data, however, suggests a broader, more adaptable food base for the foragers of this period.


IMG_0239The annual food cycle of humans in the Red Hill Valley during this time involved small band, fall and winter hunting camps, which were situated to exploit nuts and animals attracted to the forests, and large band spring and summer settlements, which were located near river mouths and lakeshores in order to fish. The small winter camps were for individual families, while the large summer settlements consisted of many families coming together to take advantage of the resources. In addition to coming together to better exploit resources, families also gathered to trade and to bury their dead – sometimes with elaborate ceremonies and offerings.


By 3,000 years ago, many stone tools – especially those made from ground stone – were artistic in design and had both social and symbolic functions. Many of these objects were made of banded slate and were carved and ground to resemble animals.


A few sites from this period were recovered during the Red Hill Valley archaeological project – the Spera 1 and Spera 2 sites, and the Pea Hill site.


3,000 to 500 Years Ago


The period between 3,000 and 1,600 years ago differed little from previous centuries with respect to settlement and diet. On the other hand, this period is marked by the introduction of ceramics (pottery) into Ontario.


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For a few hundred years more, the seasonal rounds and exploitation of naturally-occurring resources changed little. Sometime about 2000 years ago, however, something dramatic occurred – corn was introduced by Mississippian populations, which revolutionised Indigenous/Onkwehonwe lives for centuries to come.  At first, corn horticulture was practiced around the communities situated along the floodplains of major rivers in southern Ontario. By 1000 years ago, however, people had begun to live in small villages of a few hundred people around which corn was grown and from which people hunted, fished and gathered wild plan resources. In other words, people continued to seek security though the harvesting of traditional resources while they experimented with corn.








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By about 700 years ago, the lifestyle of folks in the Hamilton region was very similar to that described by the very first European visitors to Ontario in the early seventeenth century. Villages featured bark-covered longhouses that were surrounded by wooden palisades and people traced their families through their mother’s line and lived in their mother’s houses, traditions that are affiliated with Iroquoian-speaking peoples – the Huron-Wendat, Neutral and Haudenosaunee.  By this time, corn, squash and beans made up more than half of their diet and cornfields surrounded villages for almost two kilometres!  Interestingly, widespread stylistic similarities in pottery and smoking pipes appeared.



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Two sites have been shown here,  the Recliner site and the HH site – represent sites that were occupied 3,000 to 1,500 years ago, while the King’s Forest Park site was    occupied about 700 years ago.


19th-Century Euro-Canadian

Certain aspects of the Euro-Canadian settlement of the Red Hill Creek watershed were conditioned by the same environmental features (waterways, good soil) which played an important role in shaping the pre-contact Indigenous/Onkwehonwe occupation of the area.


Euro-Canadian settlement resulted in a dramatic restructuring of the landscape colonial concepts of settlement were based on buildings located within blocks of land all bounded by roads.  Late 18th and 19th century settlers, seeking permanence in their surroundings, cleared forests on a large scale, for the purposes of agriculture and industry. The eventual growth of villages and towns, offering a range of commercial services and later providing separate residential areas, also represented a new permanence in the landscape.



200 years ago - EuroCanadian HomesteadsBy the 1870s, the landscape through which the Red Hill Creek flowed was dominated by the regimen of two, 100 acre farm lots separated by road allowances. The appropriation of lands by the City of Hamilton, as well as 20th century suburban growth, resulted in dramatic changes in the landscape, especially in the lake plain below the mountain. By the 1920s, the mountain came under scrutiny as a potential urban growth area and by the 1950s, it had lost much of its rural character.


One major centre of settlement that developed was called Albion – later known as Mount Albion. In 1865, a local directory indicated Albion was a post village in the township of Saltfleet (a township which, in 1815, boasted 33 log cabins, 20 one-storey frame houses and a two-storey frame house). Albion’s local inhabitants included nine farmers, five carpenter/builders, two labourers, two hotel proprietors, a blacksmith, a poundkeeper, Justice of the Peace, merchant, bootmaker and teamster. Another concentration of homes, east of the community of Bartonville, near King Street, was also indicated on the 1903 Imperial Atlas of the County of Wentworth.


IMG_0356Henry site  Feature 1 excavationArtifacts from two historic sites are shown on here: the early 19th century (1820-1850) Euro-Canadian domestic occupation known as the Henry Site, and the mid-19th to early 20th-century domestic waste site known as the Mt. Albion Crossroads Site.