Brad Hyslop receives major archeological award
Tim Brody - Associate Editor
Hudson’s Brad Hyslop has been recognized with a major archeological award for his 25 years of research on Lac Seul’s shorelines and interior.
Hyslop recently attended the Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA) conference in Winnipeg, where he was presented with the Margaret and James F. Pendergast Award, which recognizes exemplary contributions to Canadian archeology by an avocational (non-professional) archaeologist.
Hyslop, who sits on the executive of the Manitoba Archeological Society, received a text from a colleague in Manitoba, asking if he had recently checked his email.
“I thought it was executive business because she’d been cc’d on it. I opened it up and I was stunned. Totally stunned,” Hyslop said upon learning he had been selected to receive the award.
He then forwarded the email to his wife.
“I was planning on going to Winnipeg anyway because I was presenting papers at the conference. I was going to the banquet anyway, and she wasn’t, but I said you better get a banquet ticket. I think you’re going to want to come out to the banquet,” he shared.
“It’s a big deal,” Hyslop said. “Someone sponsors you. They put your name forward and then they have to submit letters of support from people who are recognized in the field. Then it goes to a committee. They don’t have winners every year. The fact that my research has been recognized at a national level is quite the honour.”
Hyslop shared the letter he received, a portion of which reads, “As an avocational archaeologist, you have been involved in archaeological research in northern Ontario since 1991 and your 15 years of research at Lac Seul, investigating Indigenous interior sites in the boreal forest, rivals that of any professional and has advanced our understanding of regional settlement patterns in the central boreal forest. Furthermore, you have been tireless in the presentation of your research to both the professional archaeological community at conferences and to the general public. The Canadian Archaeological Association wishes to recognize your role in making a significant contribution to our understanding of Indigenous archaeological site locations in the boreal forest of northern Ontario and for promoting Canadian archaeology to a wider audience.”
The letter was sent to Hyslop by Gary Warrick, outgoing Director and President, Canadian Archaeological Association.
Hyslop, who has been researching the Lac Seul shoreline and more recently, boreal forest interior, co-authored a paper about his work and findings, which was published last October in North America Archeologist.
Hyslop explained his entire life he has been venturing out onto Lac Seul, but never stumbled across an artifact until he was in his late 20s.
The thrill of discovery hooked him instantly and he became fascinated with what he had discovered and was driven to locate more.
“One day I went out looking and I found stuff,” he said, explaining he had just never looked before.
“In some respects, I don’t think when I was younger, I was ready to receive that gift,” he commented.
Hyslop, who has a licence to recover artifacts from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, said he enjoys documenting and bringing to light the history of the Indigenous peoples of this area.
Sometimes, on a hot summer day, while being attacked by mosquitos, Hyslop thinks to himself that it might be nice to be out fishing or relaxing at the beach. However, he said, “When you do find a piece of pottery with some designs, and you lift it out and it could be 1000 years old, and you’re the first one to see it in 1000 years, then that says a lot.”
Hyslop began searching for, and documenting, artifacts on Lac Seul in 1991.
“What’s really been interesting to me, it’s great that you find cultural material, but I’ve actually been really keen on the story behind it. I think that’s one of the things, an arrowhead is cool, but what does it mean? Going out there, when you do find something and you have information. I’ve attended various service clubs in Sioux Lookout. I’ve done some of the schools, and that is part of it too. That you’re not just picking stuff up, you’re documenting it; you’re sharing that information with other people,” Hyslop explained.
“Some of my research really has involved, people have done shoreline work; Lac Seul, the shoreline’s so eroded from the flooding, so you’ll have cultural material that’s exposed and washed onto the shoreline. That paper that I did, what I’ve been doing is I’ve actually been doing work in the interior. I’m actually in the forest examining areas that aren’t easy to get at. Most people would walk the shoreline, but the boreal forest is not easy to work in. There’s a lot of deadfall. There are a lot of hornet’s nests in that balsam deadfall,” he said.
Hyslop continued, “Everybody has this idea that you’re Indiana Jones out there finding the jewel encrusted sepulcher and it’s not. You’re finding little bits of clues of people who had lived here formerly, and you’re putting the clues together to have a better understanding. A lot of people thought that most of the sites, and a lot of them on Lac Seul are washed out and gone, but from my work in the interior, we’re seeing that there’s actually extensive remains of sites that extend quite a distance back into the bush. So we’re having these fairly large sites, within the boreal forest, which is new information. The fact that I’m doing that and getting it out there is probably what I’m getting the recognition for.”
Hyslop shared in his published paper that the shorelines of Lac Seul have been visited by archaeologists before.
His findings in the interior, to the best of his knowledge, are new.
Asked what led him to explore Lac Seul’s interior, he shared, “Initial research was done by J.V. Wright, who was an archeologist in 1962. He’s out here with terrible maps and a canoe, paddling around Lac Seul in the summer. For two weeks, three weeks at the most, and then that’s it. I get to go out over a period of 25 years, several days, weeks, weekends, and so it was an accumulation.”
He further explained of a site he has named Crooked Pelican. “I started finding a lot of material in one spot, year after year. I started thinking, I wonder if there is more stuff on that little flat part in the bush… I started looking. What you do, you do a shovel test and you run it through a screen and you keep doing these series of tests into the interior and you stop once you hit negative test pits. What was happening was I getting material in test pits well back into the bush over a large area. I just wanted to look and it was there.”
Hyslop usually digs a test pit about 25 centimetres square and about 10 to 12 centimetres deep.
“My mentor, Doctor Scott Hamilton at Lakehead University, said do 50 square centimetres because the distribution is more horizontal than it is vertical… What I’m finding is sites tend to extend 25 to 30 metres back into the bush away from the shoreline.”
He described the test pits he dug. “I shaved them down in two centimetre intervals and I recorded it. Normally you just scoop and screen. Is it positive or negative? I’m actually scraping down two centimetres at a time, screening that, and then recording was anything there? So I have a lot of excellent data in these little snapshots. Which, again, is beyond what most people were doing.”
Hyslop continued, “When you’re doing the shovel tests, a lot of times it’s just small, lithic flakes from when they were sharpening tools, or pieces of broken pottery. Sometimes you’ll find an intact projectile point in the test pits, but basically we’re just doing snapshots of finding stuff. “One of the things that’s really cool is that some of the pottery shards, we’re starting to see carbonized food residue. Lakehead University, I have a good working relationship with them, they’re able to test the carbonized food residue… what we found is that there’s actually pottery on Lac Seul that’s over 1000 years old and it’s tested positive for maize, or corn. We don’t know right now if they were growing it, but there is actually evidence they were cooking corn on Lac Seul 1000 years ago.”
Hyslop believes the evidence he’s uncovered points to Lac Seul being a significant trade route. “I think people were coming to Lac Seul for fishing and the Lac Seul basin, including Sioux Lookout, nowadays it’s a hub. You look at the airport, you look at the communities to the north of us, it’s recognized as a hub. I think geographically, it’s always been a hub. If we look into the past, it’s the positioning of Lac Seul on the Canadian Shield, but you have these major river corridors in four compass directions linking us to totally different regions, the prairies, the Mississippi headwaters, the Hudson Bay lowlands, it’s geographically always been a hub... We do have evidence from some of the archeological recoveries to actually back that up.”
Hyslop added, “There’s an overall perception, from a southern Ontario point of view, that, oh, it’s bush. There are bugs. It’s cold. It’s a harsh environment. You really aren’t going to have big sites. They’re going to be these foragers moving across the landscape. My main research site, based on the shovel tests I’ve been doing over the past 20 years, is bigger than two football fields.”
He continued, “The fact that I’ve looked and I’m able to bring that information and say, guess what, if this was your perception, because no one’s coming up here and testing, all the work in Ontario is in southern Ontario. So I’m saying this is how big the site is. It’s huge, and that kind of catches their attention and when you throw in, oh, by the way, we’re finding corn up there too…”
Hyslop said it’s gratifying to be recognized for his work.
“I really enjoy analysing the artifacts and the stories the artifacts tell me are amazing, but getting it out there, it’s a vast, large region and there’s not a lot of research happening. So the fact that I’ve been able to take the story and the knowledge of what’s being passed on to me and share it with others is great. To have this honour, to be recognized at the national level, is just overwhelming.”
Hyslop, who said his research is ongoing, maintains a close relationship with Lac Seul First Nation, whose traditional territory he is working on.
“I’ve actually done artifact show and tells for Lac Seul (First Nation),” he shared.
Hyslop has also spoken with students at Pelican Falls First Nations High School about his work and findings as well.
“When we did have the Manitoba (Archeology) conference here in Sioux Lookout in 2012, I had Chief Clifford Bull come out and he was the first speaker at the conference,” Hyslop said.
Asked about his findings on Lac Seul, Hyslop stated, “I think we’ve just scratched the tip of the ice burg.”
Over the past 25 years Hyslop has found and documented more than 150 sites on Lac Seul.
Kevin Brownlee is the Curator of Archeology at the Manitoba Museum. He commented, “The award itself is almost written for somebody just like Brad, the non-professionals that take an interest in archeology very seriously.
“Anyone who knows Brad, or has met him at a conference, he’s eager to share what he’s doing,” Brownlee said.
“Being at national archaeology conferences... He’s put Sioux Lookout on the national archeology map,” Brownlee added.
“I think he’s certainly sparking the profession to see sites in the boreal forest differently. Because I do work in the boreal forest I am quite passionate about it and I see the stuff that Brad sees,” he said
He agreed with Hyslop that Lac Seul could very well have been a major trading hub.
“You’ve got major rivers systems going in all directions. Whenever you have that, those become major meeting places and the archaeology of Lac Seul is certainly reflecting that.”
He confided, “I spearheaded getting his nomination in. Every person that I said, I’m thinking of nominating Brad, would you mind writing a letter of support, everyone, without hesitation, said absolutely. Brad’s perfect for that. I’d be happy to contribute.”
Doctor Jill Taylor-Hollings, another of Hyslop’s peers, is a post-doctoral researcher in the department of anthropology at Lakehead University.
She said of Hyslop, “His research rivals that of any professional and has advanced our understanding of regional settlement patterns in the central Canadian boreal forest. Brad’s tireless enthusiasm for archaeology involves working together with other archaeologists, presenting research to both the professional community at conferences and to the general public. He has made a significant contribution to our understanding of Indigenous archaeological site locations in the Lac Seul region of Northwestern Ontario and for promoting Canadian archaeology to a wider audience.”
Hyslop is heading back to Lakehead University to take a Bachelor of Arts with a major in anthropology.
He plans to continue his archeology work on Lac Seul as well and hopes to one day find his Holy Grail, an intact clay pot, a complete vessel.