An Archaeological Assessment in Fort McPherson NWT, October 2011

Henry Cary (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2011-019)

On 19 September 2011, I was contacted by Gwitch’in Social and Cultural Institute (GSCI) director Ingrid Kritsch to assess a proposed construction near Fort McPherson National Historic Site. The Teetl’it Gwich’in Council wished to move two large log cabins from the Tl’oondih Healing Camp to ‘Hannah’s Field,’ a partially vacant lot due east of the Fort McPherson Anglican Church and cemetery, and GSCI’s concern was that this new construction would impact archaeological remains at the site. Although unexplored, the property was thought to have a number of features given its proximity to Fort McPherson National Historic Site, and since several finds had been made while excavating a children’s playground within a hundred metres of Hannah’s Field (Kritsch 2000, Farfard 2001).

After a brief background research, Parks Canada archaeological assistant Mervin Joe and I travelled to Fort McPherson on 6 October to meet with the Teetl’it Gwich’in Council project manager Jordan Stackhouse, to visit the proposed construction area, and to determine if archaeological excavation was necessary before the structures were moved to the site. Mr. Stackhouse took us to the proposed construction area where, despite the light snow cover, we could readily see the foundations of structures built on the site in the past 100 years. After discussing the proposal we determined that an option with least impact to the archaeological remains was an on-grade pillar structure. This would involve laying a series of gravel beds on grade, which would provide a base for the horizontal wood pillars supporting the cabin structure at its corner and mid-points. We also recommended that the gravel beds be separated from the ground surface using geotextile. Since this option did not require excavation, we did not recommend that the construction be monitored by an archaeologist. Mervin mapped the boundaries of the proposed construction area using a Garmin 76CSx hand-held GPS while I photographed the study area.
Another objective of the field trip was to assess the Historic Sites and Monuments Board plaque at Fort McPherson National Historic Site. We found the two posts holding the plaque to be rotted, and one had snapped at grade. Additionally, the plaque’s location behind the Anglican Church is a place not easily found by visitors approaching the site from the road. Since the plaque is to be replaced with one with a revised text, the community has requested that it be moved to a new location near the road-side of the church. We agree with this proposal but suggest that any new plaque location be tested by archaeological excavation before proceeding.


  • Farfard, Melanie. 2001. Peel River Plateau Ethno-Archaeology Project 2000, N.W.T Archaeological Permit 2000-894, Yukon Archaeological Permit 00-01ASR. Edmonton: Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta, February. Manuscript on file, Gwitch’in Social and Cultural Institute, Yellowknife.
  • Kritsch, Ingrid. 2000. A Report on Archaeological Site MiTu-1 Fort McPherson, N.W.T. Yellowknife: Gwitch’in Social and Cultural Institute, March. Manuscript on file, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, Yellowknife.

(Edited by Shelley Crouch, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre)