The Parsons Site

Lanna Crucefix

Northwest of Finch Avenue and Keele Street in North York, on a promontory overlooking Black Creek, there is more evidence of Ontario’s fascinating archaeological heritage. Parsons (AkGv-8) is a Late Iroquoian (mid- to late fifteenth century) village site. Though the entire site has not been excavated, an indication of the site’s richness is seen from the collections of John Morrison. Mr. Morrison, an avocational archaeologist, has unearthed over 250 000 artifacts, including stone, ceramic, copper, and human and animal remains.

Parsons was first brought to the attention of the archaeological community in the 1950s, when J. Norman Emerson conducted a series of field schools. These schools trained students from the University of Toronto as well as the fledgling Ontario Archaeological Society. Work at Parsons has occurred periodically over the last fifty years, including the partial excavation of the site by Archaeological Services Inc. in 1989-1990.

ASI’s investigations took the form of an 18 meter wide and 175 meter long corridor running the breadth of the site, with an additional 50 meter trench extending to the Black Creek floodplain. These excavations revealed a considerable amount of the ancient village, with the remains of 10 longhouses, subterranean sweatlodges, the eastern and western portions of a palisade, and the remains of four midden (refuse) areas. Over 6000 artifacts were recovered and subsequently analyzed.

ASI’s excavation of the Parsons site has added significantly to the present understanding of both the site and its importance in the Humber Valley archaeological sequence. In particular, new information has been learned about the construction of the village area. ASI’s analysis of the settlement patterns shows that of the 10 longhouses, 6 were built in a cluster aligned northwest-southeast, possibly the result of a single planned building event. Indications of rebuilding are seen in House 4 (constructed from two smaller structures) and in the extension or contraction of four other houses. This suggests a long occupation period. The artifact density across the site also tells an interesting story. Most of the human bone and exotic ceramics were found on the eastern portion of the site, suggesting a sub-group within the village with different trade partners outside the community.

Parsons is also a meaningful component in the study of Humber Valley archaeology. When compared to other sites, Parsons is almost twice the size of earlier villages in the Humber sequence, and may represent the amalgamation of people from earlier, smaller villages. The location of the majority of exotic ceramics in the eastern area of the Parsons village and the recovery of two upright human crania at the bottom of the associated midden may also point to a group of people who joined the new village as a distinct cultural or familial group. The defensive palisade may be evidence of the growing hostilities of the period, separating the people of Parsons from the greater community.

Though of pivotal importance in formulating the culture-history of the Humber Valley, Parsons is sad evidence of the types of problems to which an archaeological site may fall prey. Attempts were made as early as 1962 to turn Parsons into a reconstructed village with an associated educational component. However, construction projects in 1977 and the early 1980s were allowed to proceed without proper archaeological evaluations, resulting in the destruction of parts of the village. Luckily, acknowledgment of the importance of Toronto’s archaeological heritage has improved in recent times. The amount of information gathered by ASI about the Parsons site demonstrates the importance of a quality archaeological assessment to ensure that irreplaceable information is not lost forever.