George Sim’s Archaeological Collection:  Facts or Ethnohistory?

Gilbert R. Bossé, Métis-sur-Métis, QC,, ©2007 (July 25, 2007)

Ferreting out little known local history requires much more than looking up notes in the old family Bible or querying your neighbourly octogenarian on local ethno-history. When researching concrete historical facts, some, if not many of us, would be familiar with their details. But when the source is only references of objects that were forgotten with the passing decades, hundreds of hours of research often result in few fertile leads. The story of George Sim’s stone tool collection has both these characteristics. 

When I first learned about the collection, the information was vague and fragmented. Few local persons were knowledgeable of the facts, and what archaeological and in the anthropological journals I had, no mention of them could be found. Where do we go from there? Most of the artifacts found at Metis by Dawson, Leggatt, Armstrong, Mathewson and others were donated to the Redpath Museum, and now reside at the McCord Museum, Montreal. But they didn’t have George Sim’s collection. Neither did Université de Montréal, nor McGill University. Actually, nobody seems to have his collection. He had been in contact with the archaeologist W. J. Wintemberg in the 1930s, and, luckily, their correspondence has been carefully preserved at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Between those letters and related details from various sources, let’s see if we can sort out the facts from our ethno-history.

From Jessie G. Stevenson’s stories of Metis written in the 1980s, we learn George Sim’s farm was on the south side of Lighthouse Point, where his grandfather or father ploughed up a variety of stone artifacts. Jessie also mentioned that Professor Henry Fry Armstrong, of the Engineering Department of McGill University, had found a fine stone mallet while making the foundation for his cottage at Metis, and that she had picked up a slate arrowhead on the beach near the Nowers’ home [both at Lighthouse Point], once George Sim’s house. Ms. Stevenson also mentioned that at one time the south side of Metis Point bay was an Indian encampment. In addition, she mentions of hearing in her younger days that one of the Turriffs digging near the highway or beach found a skeleton, ashes, beads, etc. Ms. Dorothy Drake, at Lighthouse Point, found an artifact around 1965, which had arrived in a load of black ground for her garden from the farm the Sim family had worked for generations. Then Professor Edward Pilgrim, head-master of the Ridley College, St. Catherines, Ontario, believed evidence of Indian occupation was to be found on the site of his cottage, one of the oldest houses in Metis, on Turriff’s Bay [475 Beach Road]

Were those stone tools his grandfather or father ploughed up in the field the same artifacts he mentioned in his letters? We don’t know, as his collection grew over the years, and he possibly had been given artifacts found by other farmers or summer residents. We do know he had documented in his letters, including pencil outline traces, of a rubbing stone or finishing tool, two adzes or celts, a gouge, a few lance points, a biface knife. He mentioned hearing about two native camp sites and a burial ground at Métis, and a large bone, believed to be a walrus tusk. While we can’t verify the first two allegations, we know from Benjamin Écuyer’s 1811 report on Métis prepared for John Macnider, seignior of Métis, that walrus, which he called sea-cows in his report, were roaming the river at that time. Mr. Sim also mentioned the existence of a small collection of Indian tools left on the premises by a family, who had moved away many years before. To this very day, that collection has never been found. The last trace of George Sim’s collection ended in 1936, still with the eight artifacts in Halloway, located on the western end of the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario.

How old are items in the Sim collection? The earliest known artifacts in the area date back to 8,000 years before present, and stone-age implements were still in use during the early European contact. Unfortunately, insufficient details exist to date George Sim’s collection. Even the documented and well-known Métis artifacts donated to the McCord Museum over the years continued undated. 

As further archaeological and anthropological research is carried out in the area, we will slowly piece together each part of the puzzle. Will we find all the answers and those eight artifacts George Sim brought with him when he left Metis in 1933. Perhaps not, but then surprises have arrived from the strangest sources. Occasionally readers furnish details believed insignificant at that time, helping connect together those evasive missing links.