Updated: Jun 14
Written by: Nikki Simon
July 20th 2021
Yesterday morning, at long last, our little team of archaeologists finally met up at the fantastically named Gold Panners Campground and moved into the place that we would be calling our home for the next two weeks.
Headed by Dr. Sarah Beaulieu, our group, somewhat accidentally, consists of seven students and alumni pulled from Simon Fraser Universities Archaeology department. We hope to assist Sarah in uncovering the long-hidden secrets of what was once referred to as Monashee Mountain Internment Camp.
Monashee Mountain Internment Camp is a location of which we know very little. Seen as yet another dark spot on the face of Canada's shiny and glorious past, the records regarding Monashee, and most other Canadian internment camps, were destroyed in the 1950s. What we do know is that the camp housed approximately 250-300 male European immigrants, mostly Austro-Hungarian but some German, and that Monashee only operated for a short time, between May 18, 1915, and July 31, 1915, as it was far too challenging to get supplies up to the camp.
The goal of our group is to uncover artifacts and other material remains that, when combined with oral history, archival data and GPR survey, will allow Sarah to analyze the diet of the prisoners that resided within Monashee Camp. Throughout the war, many prisoners of war complained about the poor diet at these internment camps, and so, this work is conducted by Sarah, as with her analysis of Morrissey Internment Camp, to try and confirm these claims.
The long-term goal set aside, the primary mission of our first day on-site was to survey the area to locate the remnants of the camp and, with hope, any surface artifacts. And what a productive day it was! We dove right into the forest, and after wandering in what felt like circles for a bit - through rising temperatures, endless bug bites and trees tearing at our clothes, we managed to flag several features and artifacts of interest. That's archaeology for you; no pain, no gain!
The first feature that we came upon was a trench. These, we were informed by Sarah, were dug all around the camp's periphery, and, sure enough, we found several more along with rocks bearing the faint remnants of what looked to be white paint. These too marked the periphery; in fact, it was standard within military camps for the rocks marking the boundaries and pathways to be whitewashed, a fact I had learned from M*A*S*H in my youth, and which Sarah confirmed for us.
Then we stumbled upon the mother-lode, cans! Cans of various kinds littered the ground and, amongst them, other miscellaneous pieces of metal; stove parts, ductwork, and a mysterious metal bar hanging from a tree, perhaps a lifting implement of some kind?
Finally, we managed to find the main thing we had been looking for, a cornerstone of concrete, likely from a prior foundation, and a metal tube sticking out of the ground, for the flagpole! These were arranged around a notable indent in the dirt, another indication that a building was likely previously there.
After achieving what we came for, we started to work our way out of the forest again, but lo and behold, we discovered the bottom half of a mason jar and an entire small bottle. The mason jar turned out to be a Dominion Wide Mouth Special, and the small bottle we believe may have been used for camphor oil or similar.
That's it, that was our day, a day in the life of an archaeologist. We escaped the woods, came back to our cabins and washed off the satisfying layer of dirt and grime that we'd attained. Then we all gathered together for a delicious spaghetti dinner, rousing tales of our past field school memories and some cut-throat games of Crazy 8's.
Beaulieu, Sarah. “The Prisoner of War Diet: A Material and Faunal Analysis of the Morrisey WWI Internment Camp.” Journal of Conflict Archaeology 15, no. 2 (2020): 118–45. https://doi.org/10.1080/15740773.2020.1889256.
Helston, Charlotte. “Unmarked and Relatively Unknown Internment Camp on Highway 6 Getting Recognized.” INFOnews, June 25, 2016. https://infotel.ca/newsitem/unmarked-and-relatively-unknown-internment-camp-on-highway-6-getting-recognized/it32057.