Examining Burlington Heights: The Public Visibility of a War of 1812 Heritage Site

The question of public access to, and visibility of heritage knowledge gained by archaeological and historical research have become very prevalent issues of examination and debate among academics and popular writers alike. From public news writers like J. Mulholland (2015) who argued that academics should avoid public engagement, to actual archaeologists like Myles Mitchell (2013) and his fellow Australian archaeologists who have gone to great lengths to try and integrate the community both in the process of managing and conserving their own archaeological heritage. In the hopes of contributing to this discussion, I intend to tackle a much more simple issue of visibility and the access related to visibility of heritage sites on a local scale. To this end, I visited the heritage site of Burlington Heights, to specifically its monuments to its role in the War of 1812 with the intent of examining various aspects of how the site, any artifacts from the site, and its history were presented to the public. Since the War of 1812 is one of the more fondly remembered military conflicts in terms of Canadian success here in Canada, I approached this topic curious to see how a site related to this conflict was preserved and displayed.

When visiting this site, I analyzed two different but connected constructs that both dealt with trying to show off Burlington Heights and its history during the war of 1812 to the public: the monuments, and the nearby Hamilton Military Museum and its exhibit on the site. The monument of Burlington Heights itself is a very basic stone tablet/marker, and was built in 1935 by the Federal Government, commemorating the active dates of the site (1813-1814) as a reserve and assembly point for troops and a depot during the War of 1812. Besides that, there are two more tablets that I found, one which was placed even earlier in 1814 where the first line of ramparts stood by the Wentworth Historical Society, and a stone tablet marking the actual ramparts of Fort Burlington Heights. The latter tablet also includes a recounting of Lieutenant Colonel Harvey’s surprise attack on June 5th, 1813, though the date when the tablet was placed was not included.


Official Burlington Heights, War of 1812 Memorial Tablet


Earthworks Line Marker (Several steps to the left of the official Monument)


Ramparts Monument (has since had its lettering fixed and bushes trimmed), Hamilton Cemetery

     Meanwhile, the Hamilton Military Museum held a small but fairly extensive exhibit on Burlington Heights. The exhibit included archaeological artifacts from the various decades of occupation of the site, including during the time the British used it in the War of 1812. They also have various maps from the time period detailing the fortifications, a brochure telling the history of Burlington Heights, and several detailed placards of information on various aspects of Burlington Heights before and during the War of 1812, First Nations allies in the war, and Black Loyalist Soldiers who fought and are buried in the nearby Hamilton Cemetery.


Burlington Heights Map, 1813. Featured in the Hamilton Military Museum

     Having spent several hours examining Burlington Heights as a War of 1812 memorial and how it has been presented to the public, I do not believe that it is a badly presented site in terms of the information it is trying to show to the public, but it is very badly presented in terms of actually advertising the site as a place for people to access and examine.

The monuments themselves are quite divided, with the official monument and earthwork marker standing right overlooking the bay several hundred yards away from the nearest parking lot, and the other tablet sitting in the middle of Hamilton Cemetery right across a busy and fast-moving street. There are no signs directing visitors to either of the actual monuments and maps were not immediately forthcoming, though they may have been provided upon buying a ticket for Dundurn Castle, which is the main attraction of the area, but I did not go through that route. Regardless, there were no publicly available maps of the area within sight despite the area having several heritage monuments and buildings.


Dundurn Castle, the main heritage attraction and site near the Burlington Heights Monument. The Hamilton Military Museum is off to the right of this picture.

     The nearby Hamilton Military Museum, though fairly extensive in its presentation of the artifacts and history as I said, is also not very well advertised as a place to view heritage on the area, with the small building it is placed in having no actual signage or images advertising it as a museum other than one placed by the door, which when I had entered had actually fallen over due to high winds. A brief discussion with one of the employees there informed me that even though the people who buy tickets to nearby Dundurn Castle are informed about the museum, only roughly 50-60% of people who visit the castle take the time to also visit the museum.


Road-facing Side of the Hamilton Military Museum


Entrance to the Hamilton Military Museum, Hamilton Ontario

     This is not a problem unique to Burlington Heights, many different sites and projects in archaeology and heritage studies have grappled with the task of trying to make themselves more accessible to the public, and to engage the public in various ways with their heritage. In this case I do not believe the issue lies in the presentation of the information, so much as the ability to make people aware of the fact that the sites and these artifacts exist. That, as well as making the archaeology and history interesting or enticing enough in its presentation that people want to see it should also a major factor in making this site and its separate pieces become more active as a heritage site in Hamilton.

To find out more about Burlington Heights, and other Historical and Heritage Sites related to the War of 1812 in Hamilton, Ontario check this links:

Canada’s Historic Places: Burlington Heights

Toursim Hamilton: 1812 Sites in Hamilton


Mitchell, Myles, David R. Guilfoyle, Ron Doc Reynolds, and Catherine Morgan (2013). Towards Sustainable Community Heritage Management and the Role of Archaeology: A Case Study from Western Australia. Heritage & Society 6(1): 24-45. DOI: 10.1179/2159032X13Z.0000000005

Mulholland, J. (2015). Academics: forget about public engagement, stay in your ivory towers. The Guardian: Higher Education Network. URL: http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/dec/10/academics-forget-about-public-engagement-stay-in-your-ivory-towers


Hope: Collaboration and the Preservation of Moriori Culture

“The case study research has given us hope too in other ways-hope that our trees and living tree carvings can be saved; and hope that the process of engagement and collective decision making is the best course of action.” (Moriori Cultural Database, Simon Fraser University).

Chatham Islands Map

Map of the Chatham Islands, New Zealand

By: Elizabeth Carmichael and James Saunders

The Moriori are an indigenous group located on the Chatham Islands of New Zealand. Their cultural history, heritage, and language have not been passed down since the 1830s except through limited archives and memories of elder community members. In response to this problem, co-developers: Susan Thorpe, Maui Soloman and elder, Tom Lanauze, created a project in conjunction with Simon Fraser University in order to preserve Moriori material culture and to actively help teach the community about their heritage.

Their objectives include: establishing a Moriori knowledge database to preserve their traditions, ensuring the protection of their intellectual property, developing the Hokotehi Knowledge Recording Mentorship Programme (HKRMP) to help encourage participation in recording Moriori practices, exploring options for land use and resource management, and helping to educate modern day Moriori on their cultural heritage.

The project has taken on a community based approach that involves the cooperation and consultation with researchers and Moriori elders. This bi-cultural approach blends together archaeological practice and methods with elder knowledge. In addition, a unique approach taken by this project is its emphasis on the digitization of recording information and Moriori artefacts. This approach has been particularly important in overcoming barriers found in the isolated community while at the same time being cost effective and inclusive. Additionally, this approach has influenced the methodology of the project including the use of video cameras to record fieldwork which allows for high levels of participation and community inclusiveness. Digital workshops have been developed to educate participants on this method to encourage further participation and collaboration between community members and researchers. This method is particularly important because it brings Moriori values to solve both archaeological problems with artefact and site preservation, and ecological challenges such as protecting rakau momori (carved living trees) in a sacred grove. This project also ensures that Moriori artefacts are stored in Te Papa, a museum curated in part by collection managers and conservators in collaboration with the Moriori community. Thus, this initiative makes the artefacts more accessible to the community.

Moriori Database

Moriori descendant with a rakau momori (photo from IPinCH).

The project values this collaborative element because they want to share and preserve the cultural heritage of the Moriori people. This will allow them to gain a better insight into their culture and help to distinguish the Moriori from the Maori in academic settings. The aspiration of this project is to teach the modern generation about their cultural heritage and increase their knowledge of their culture. This project is significant because it shows how it is possible and valuable to work with the community, and that collaboration between researchers and community members can be successful. It also highlights an important trend in the effectiveness of digitizing archaeology in order to make it more accessible and to help with preservation.

In relation to other archaeological practices, this project is different because it did not start with research questions.  Instead, the research questions were made along the way. In comparison to other archaeologically practices, it was fairly easy to get the community involved because this archaeological work was aligned with the goals of the community. The project also puts the Moriori in control of the artefacts instead of the state. Additionally, the project does their archaeological work ethically by following a mandatory protocol set forth by Simon Fraser University which made use of required consent forms. These forms notified each interviewee the objectives of the project and ensured the willing participation of community members. The rights and dignity of these participants were particularly important to the developers of the project. In conclusion, this case study demonstrates the effectiveness and validity of community based research based upon collaboration and mutual respect.

For more information on the project please visit: 



Public Archaeological Efforts in Belize

An example of public archaeology can be seen in the research project lead by Sean Downey in the North Vaca Plateau in west-central Belize. This research project seeks to investigate the long-term socio-environmental dynamics of this region and on a subcategory this project hopes to identify which aspects of subsistence farming are more susceptible to droughts, the minimum gross annual precipitation required for successful crops, and the importance of the timing of the rainy season onset. Sean Downey uses an interdisciplinary approach, with methods including interviewing, collecting ethnographic and ethnohistorical data from the local farmers.

Above is a farmer taking part in the project from Belize

The compilation of historical climate data info for the last 100 years is a critical component to the research. This brings up the question, how does connecting past and present, creating a history, benefit the present? We suggest that by making this connection, in the way that Downey does, brings to light various trends, insight in mistakes, and lost knowledge. With this knowledge, we can take precautions and make changes that will help future farmers of the area. The inclusivity and collaborative approach that this research project has with the local farmers and communities encourages the local community to care more about their own subsistence in a more holistic way.

Ecological archaeology is a sort of practice on its own; the involvement with the farmers is the connection between ecology and sociology. The community members and farmers have the best understanding of their own environment, with the fields being ploughed and sown by them annually. The researchers want to connect the past environment with the present through the knowledge being given to them by the farmers.

The goal of this community-based archaeology project is ultimately to give back to the community of the North Vaca Plateau. Their values, including environmental preservation, link to the impact that they will have on the environment and the people who live within it. The fieldwork intends to provide insight into how the involved farmers are able to cope with climate stress. By understanding the long-term socio-environmental dynamics of sub-region’s prehistory they will be able to enhance the study of the area’s dynamics during the most recent century. There are strong ethical ties through these values, as well as through the collaboration with the local farmers and archaeological preservation.

Downey’s work in the area focuses on practical knowledge and benefits. He creates a historical narrative between the environment and the local population that is relative to the farmers who live there. The historical knowledge he summarizes can also be beneficial to the community in intangible ways. He encapsulates knowledge that can help strengthen local identity and heritage.


By Zoe Kalakos and Tara Speers

Çatalhöyük: The Pros and Cons of Public Archaeology on a Massive Scale

By Ben Armstrong and Taylor Noble

Exacavation of the site.

Çatalhöyük has been discovered as one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. With its massive scale, and sizeable collection of intact artifacts, lots can be researched about the site and its relevance to early human settlements. Currently, the site has been given a 50 year contract for excavation, and has employed hundreds of archaeologists around the world and from various different fields in order to gain a better perspective on the massive amount of data that is being found there. In order to compliment the academic research going on at the site, the coordinators have created a large public outreach program in order to show off their findings, and incorporate the general public. Such a large scale of public outreach has brought enormous benefits to the site and the archaeology being practiced there, but has also brought along several unrealistic expectations of archaeology that have the potential to become framed in the public mindset. While we agree that the scale of public outreach being practiced at Çatalhöyük does bring several benefits to the site, it also brings with it many potential risks, particularly around how archaeology is assumed to be practiced by the public. Using this example we would like to highlight some of what we have agreed to be the pros and cons of public archaeology both at this individual scale, and as a wider concept.

The benefits of public archaeology at Çatalhöyük rely primarily on two things: the massive scale at which it is being practiced, and the large amount of funding which the site has obtained over the years. In its 50 year project lifecycle, the teams which have worked there have uncovered an enormous number of findings which have interested more than just the public eye. While funding came from academic sources, corporate sponsorship has also benefited the project. With this financial backing, it was possible to turn Çatalhöyük into one of the biggest examples of publicly viewable archaeological projects. Over the decades, this site has become a living exhibition, with replicas and guided tours showing visitors both the discoveries currently made at the site, and the ongoing excavation. This sparks renewed interest in archaeology from a public perspective, and there is also the benefit of giving more money to the site. The Visitor’s Centre in particular has done a wonderful job in presenting an honest view of the archaeology, and keeping the sight preserved for excavation. It presents a very idealistic picture of a well-run and well-funded public archaeological site.

While this has worked in Çatalhöyük’s advantage, there are a lot of downsides to the the large scale of public archaeology which they have created. The commercialization and exhibition of sites is highly irregular, or difficult to come by in traditional archaeology. The funding required for this scale of public inclusion is only possible with corporate sponsors or massive academic funding, which most sites around the world lack. We want the public to be aware of the fact that this is a unique case where both the funding and unique coordination has made this situation work successfully, and is not the norm in archaeology. Even with the potential of financing public archaeology, many sites could also not sustain tourist involvement, due to the delicate nature of some sites. Herein lies the major issue with Çatalhöyük is the potential to cast an unrealistic image of how archaeology is practiced and publicly accessed.

Gudied tour of the site. 

Public Archaeology should always be included when possible, but funding and accessibility also provide the biggest potential challenges to incorporating it. We want archaeology to continue to maintain realistic portrayals of its practice to the public, while also trying to appeal to public sponsorship for more funding. The future of archaeology may very well rely on corporate sponsorship in order to even practice archaeology, but the issue lies in trying to strike a balance between both the corporate and academic interests. Çatalhöyük has shown us that it is possible to find this balance under the right circumstances, but we should not lead the public to assume that this is possible in all contexts. Thus, Çatalhöyük can perhaps serve as a case study for future archaeological projects that seek to incorporate more public involvement while staying true to the goals of the discipline.