Public invited to learn history of Shickluna Shipyard at dig site open houses

To the untrained eye, the bits of broken glass, china and rusted metal might not look like much, but the more-than-100-year-old fragments tell an important story about St. Catharines’ maritime and industrial past.

Artifacts found at the site of what was once the Shickluna Shipyard will be on display during a series of open houses that will provide the public an opportunity to visit the archaeological excavation site and learn about its history.

The site, on the banks of Twelve Mile Creek near the Burgoyne Bridge, will welcome visitors Wednesday, Aug. 10, Saturday, Aug. 13 and Sunday, Aug. 14, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

Different coloured pieces of broken glass are displayed on a tray.

The team excavating the former Shickluna Shipyard site has found a variety of metal, glass, china, leather, bone, wood, plastic and brick artifacts.

“We look forward to sharing the results of our research with the public through a series of tours and displays at the excavation site,” says Kimberly Monk, a maritime archaeologist and Adjunct Professor with Brock University’s Department of History. “Visitors will have the chance to learn about the site’s history, view the archaeological excavation and see the documents, maps and artifacts that inform our study of this historic canal landscape.”

A team of Brock field school students and volunteers, led by Monk, have been excavating a worker’s cottage and boathouse at the site since July 11. This year’s work is a continuation of five weeks of excavation completed in 2019.

Now an empty lot, the site was once a busy industrial hub. It was first used as a shipyard by Russell Armington from 1828 to 1837 and then by Maltese immigrant Louis Shickluna from 1838 to 1880. Joseph Shickluna was the last to run the shipyard from 1880 to 1891 before it was leased to the St. Catharines Box and Basket Company until 1901. The ships built there supported the trade of bulk goods, such as grain, coal and lumber, throughout the Great Lakes region.

For third-year Brock History student Ben Riopelle, the field school has been an opportunity to look at “history from below.”

“In History, we’re often reading data and numbers, and looking at broader perspectives — something we call ‘top-down.’ When you look at the more human perspective, you get a different idea of what an event or location was really like,” he says. “Archaeology is really helpful for that. Even just a medicine bottle, for example, can give so much information about daily life, the development of medicine and even trade.”

Students and volunteers recovered more than 4,000 artifacts during the 2019 field season and are on track to recover more than twice that quantity this year, says Monk.

“Despite some weather setbacks, deeper contexts have resulted in an increased quantity of cultural materials and features that will aid our understanding of this significant maritime site,” she says.

Even little bits of rusted iron provide insight into the past, says student Manel Belhadji-Domecq, who has been helping to clean and catalogue metal artifacts in the field school’s lab.

“Even garbage tells a story,” she says. “What we throw away or leave behind is a consequence of the way we live and the things we use. The pieces we can identify tell us about the people who worked here and their activities.”

A man in a black surgical mask and wearing a baseball cap uses a toothbrush to clean a ceramic fragment while working over top of a white bin.

Brock University History student Ben Riopelle carefully cleans a ceramic fragment found during the Shickluna Shipyard archaeological dig.

In addition to glass, china and metal, the team has found leather, bone, wood, plastic and brick artifacts, and will feature a selection from the 2019 and 2022 field seasons during the upcoming open houses.

While the project, which involves faculty from both Brock University and McMaster University, is funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Development Grant, Monk says the support of community businesses and local volunteers has been key.

“My deepest gratitude to our community sponsors for their support and generosity of the Shickluna Shipyard project,” she says. “Their various contributions are critical to the success of the work.”

The project is supported by community sponsors Calhoun, Rankin Construction Inc., Puddy’s Bar and Grill, Showebokx, Telephone Clinic Inc., Detritus Consulting Ltd., Modern Corporation and BMI Group.

The open houses are free and open to adults and children aged 12 and up. Preregistration is required via Eventbrite.

Visitors are asked to wear closed-toe shoes for safety on site and to leave pets at home. Those unable to walk the site will be able to talk with volunteers and view photographs. Parking is available at Rodman Hall courtesy of Nino Donatelli.

Questions about the event can be sent to

What: Shickluna Shipyard Archaeology Open Days
: Aug. 10, 13 and 14 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day
: 45 Renown Road, St. Catharines

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