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Chapter 2
First Peoples on the Land
Table of Contents

Title Page
Author's Preface
1 The Road through Richmond Hill
2 First Peoples on the Land
Richmond Hill's Earliest Inhabitants
A Late Iroquoian Village in Richmond Hill
On Location at Yonge Street and Major Mackenzie Drive
The Mississaugas Move In - and Out
3 The European Settlers Arrive
4 From Miles' Hill to Richmond Hill: The Birth of a Community
5 Tories and Reformers
6 Stagecoach Lines and Railway Tracks
7 The Neighbours at Mid-Century
8 Fire Brigades and Fence Viewers
9 Picture Post Card Village of the 1880s and 1890s
10 Rails through Richmond Hill
11 The Flowering of Richmond Hill
12 The Village Transformed
Table of Illustrations

On Location at Yonge Street and Major Mackenzie Drive

A. J. Clark's 1928 map of the Boyle-Atkinson Site.
David Boyle was the first European to draw attention to the Boyle-Atkinson Site and to the larger story of Iroquoian occupation of Richmond Hill. Born in Scotland in 1842, he immigrated to Canada with his parents when he was fourteen, and eventually became a keen observer and interpreter of North American prehistory. In the late 1860s, young Boyle spent much of his leisure time exploring the laneways and fields of his uncle's Braeside Farm - a two-hundred-acre property (about eighty hectares) at the southwest corner of Yonge Street and Major Mackenzie Drive.

During one visit to the farm, when told of the existence of ashbeds, Boyle took spade in hand and began digging. During the course of several shallow excavations, he turned up ancient stone pipes and bone tools. "An old camp site marked the place," he later wrote, "and from the beds of ashes several phalangal bones were taken," one "a somewhat remarkable specimen" having a turtle figure marked on it. 20

These Braeside finds and other early discoveries fuelled Boyle's interest in New World archaeology and helped launch his career as Canada's first professional archaeologist. Originally a school teacher, and for ten years principal of the public school in Elora, Ontario, Boyle made himself an authority on the archaeology of Ontario. He later became museum curator for the Canadian Institute in Toronto and for the Ontario Department of Education. His annual archaeological reports brought him international prominence as Canada's premier archaeologist in the years before the First World War.21

But Boyle focused little of his later attention on his uncle's property at Yonge Street and Major Mackenzie Drive. He moved on to other archaeological digs at other locations and became increasingly involved in museum administration. When he died in 1911, it seemed as if the link between twentieth-century Richmond Hill and its native Indian past was severed.

Then on the last day of 1928, A.J. Clark, an amateur archaeologist and resident of Richmond Hill, began a series of recorded visits to the site first described by Boyle almost forty years earlier. Clark gives a more accurate location of the site and provides a rough sketch map, placing the site on the east side of a creek about halfway between Yonge and Bathurst streets. He revisited the site several times over the next three years, finding pieces of ceramics, clay pipes, arrow heads, stone beads, and stone tools. Clark reported that with each successive annual spring ploughing the productive area kept extending north towards what was then Maple Side Road, now Major Mackenzie Drive.22

During the half-century following Clark's work, the Boyle-Atkinson Site suffered from "indiscriminate looting of its surface materials by ubiquitous pothunters," as an archaeologist's report later stated. 23 The site's exact location was actually misplaced on archival maps and planning documents, allowing land developers to receive draft plan approval for a massive subdivision without any consideration for possible heritage resources. Then amateur archaeologist Charles Turton relocated the site in 1983, just prior to construction of a subdivision on the land.

When Turton learned of the construction plans, he launched a campaign to generate interest in a salvage project. Support came from the Town of Richmond Hill, the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee, the Richmond Hill Historical Society, the Richmond Hill Rotary Club, and the York Region Separate School Board. Money was raised from federal and municipal government sources and from the private sector. The land developer, BAIF Associates, granted access to the site for a salvage excavation with the stipulation that construction would proceed on schedule in five months.

In 1984, the Boyle-Atkinson Site was excavated by archaeologists Mayer, Pihl, Poulton and Asssociates, with volunteer assistance provided by 390 students from eleven schools of the York Region Separate School Board. The students worked for three weeks under the close supervision of trained archaeologists, and gained insight into native cultures and lifestyles. Because of this team's work, we now have a more detailed knowledge of the Late Iroquoian occupation of Richmond Hill.


20. For David Boyle's comments on his various Braeside finds, see Ontario, Ontario Legislative Assembly, Ontario Archaeological Report, 1899(Toronto:1900),pp. 25, 28, and Ontario, Archaeological Report, 1900(Toronto:1901)p. 22.

21. For a comprehensive biography of Boyle, see Gerald Killan, David Boyle: From Artisan to Archaeologist(Toronto:University of Toronto Press,1983).

22. Mayer, Pihl, Poulton and Associates,"The 1984 Salvage Excavation,"p. 3.

23. Ibid.


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Copyright Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991