Nineteenth-century Working-Class Residential Transience and Stability in Toronto’s St. Andrew’s Ward: Examining Differential Effects on Artifact Assemblages

Ontario Archaeological Society Symposium, 2019
Katherine L. Hull and David Robertson

When excavating historical archaeological sites, we often view them through the lens of assumed permanence, or at least an extended and significant occupation. Our interpretations about the intersections of social realities with material culture are then built upon a framework of stability and longevity. These assumptions create a one-to-one relationship between occupants and assemblage; Family X created Assemblage X during a defined time period. While the efficacy of this assumption should be critically examined in general, its weakness is most clear within economically poorer urban contexts in which the transience of occupants can be documented within a limited geographical area. In these cases, the archaeological assemblages may be less reflective of the individuals and families who inhabited the space for a short time but, rather, may be statements about the perceived needs and values of the short-term renters by others. These perceptions may have taken physical form through purchases made by landlords or agents to furnish rental properties with basic domestic tools. Alternatively, they may be collections of items assembled by the occupants through a combination of new or second-hand purchases, supplemented by material left behind by previous tenants, for any number of reasons, and items furnished by the landlord. The assemblages from three working-class urban properties—one characterized by a high turnover of tenants, one of mid-length rentals, and one of relative stability on the part of the actual property owner—will be evaluated to determine if a qualitative or quantitative correlation between length of tenancy and material culture can be determined.