Welcome back to Our Lands Speak blog and the dialogue we began in my last post noting that the Yake site was one of two we found during our assessment of a farm located just south of Stouffville, on behalf of Fieldgate Developments.

Our archival research revealed that this site was occupied by tenants who rented it from John Yake Sr. 

Figure 1 Site – Stage 4 with PPs closeup 14 Sept 2017

Our excavations uncovered a very simple rural homestead comprised of a small cellar, two relatively large pits located beside each other, and a small natural depression filled with refuse (Figure 1).

The cellar had stone walls and extended 70 cm into the subsoil (Plate 1, see image at the top of this post). There was evidence for an exterior entrance which may have served as a root cellar, as well as a kitchen midden at the western side of the house where garbage was probably discarded adjacent to a door in this location. 

The two large pits were interesting in that they were the size and shape of what might have been privy pits under the outhouse used by the residents of the home. Yet these pits did not contain commonly found artifacts such as liquor bottles, accidentally broken dishes, or raspberry seeds which we usually associate with such pits. I have been pondering this and do think that these were probably privy pits after all. We can only presume that things like liquor bottles and broken items such as mom’s favorite candy dish were discarded elsewhere, and that raspberries were simply not being processed to make jelly or cordial so there were no mash of seeds to be disposed of in a place away from flies. 

As I recall, this is the first archaeological site we have excavated that was occupied by tenants. The impression I get from all of our work is that this house was probably occupied by a poor family who paid their rent but did little and/or had minimal means to make improvements to the property. The investigation reminded me of the tremendous variability of 19th century homesteads and farmsteads. It seems that every site is slightly different, and each one provides additional insights into life as it was more than a century and a half ago. Interestingly at times, these insights can be very different than the written history of the era.

So, we continue our work in hopes to help preserve what we can and shed light on our province’s heritage and the many cherished stories from long ago.

Just a friendly reminder to consider following my Facebook page, if you haven’t yet, and join in the often-lively conversation.

As we enter the holiday season, take time to jot down some of your memories of yesteryear and share them with your friends and family. Enjoy making new ones too.


Bill Finlayson

William D. Finlayson, Midland, Ontario

Ontario’s Leading and Senior-Most Archaeologist and Author

Founder of Our Lands Speak Book Series and Occasional Papers in Ontario Archaeology

Feature image: Plate 1 – Drone shot of excavation of the Yake site

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