A Visit to One of Hamilton’s Civic Museums: WHITEHERN

The city of Hamilton is known for many things, including being:

     With regard to heritage, Hamilton is known to possess a vast amount of historical sites and civic museums. By definition, heritage is known as the basic human need that connects a particular group of people, community, or culture to their past. As something that is handed down from the past to following generations, the management of heritage generates a sense of identity, tradition, and belonging. Perspectives of heritage may also differ depending on its context – I will be focussing on the local perspective of heritage. 

     One particular civic museum located at the heart of downtown Hamilton is known as the Whitehern Historic House and Garden. Originally the property of the McQuesten family (from 1852-1968), but bequeathed to the city of Hamilton after the remainder of their family members passed. 


     As per request, I rang the doorbell and waited for an attendant to let me into the house. To my surprise, a lady in a servant’s costume answered the door, gave me a warm welcome, and introduced herself. Her name was Katherine (Fig. 1). I had explained to her the purpose of my visit and so she offered to give me a guided tour. After giving a brief history of the house, she took me to each room and talked about what they were used for, when they were occupied, and who used them. I was impressed at how well-kept the place was, and even more so when I was told that everything in the house was original, except for the wallpaper in the parlour room (Fig. 2). The interior design and decorations were very telling of when this house was mainly occupied in – the eclectic Victorian period. 

    The second floor was where all five bedrooms were located and in the main hall was a family tree of the McQuestens (Fig. 3). Katherine gave a run-down of each family member, describing their occupations, hobbies, and even causes of death. Some interesting facts include:

  • Dr. Calvin McQuesten (1st generation) – moved to Hamilton from New York to get into the steel and iron industry. 
  • Thomas McQuesten (2nd generation) – received a degree in Law at the University of Toronto and was a member of the Hamilton Tigers.
  • Calvin McQuesten (3rd generation) – was part of the Ministry of Highway and opened up the QEW. He also helped with the construction of the Rainbow Bridge, along with other roads, parks, and recreations.

Following that, Katherine led me to the rest of the house even taking me to a mini exhibit found at the basement (Fig. 4). After the tour had ended, she had advised me to search online for more information about the Whitehern and the McQuestens. 

HERITAGE: Management, Community, and Accessibility 

    Establishing the Whitehern Historic House and Garden as a civic museum is a good example of contemporary archaeology through its involvement in heritage management, community stewardship, cultural tourism, and accessibility of knowledge and information.

Heritage Management.  It is evident that the city of Hamilton is taking the right measures in maintaining the Whitehern civic museum. Extra precaution is being taken to continuously maintain the artefacts and objects found within it. This includes making the rooms off-limits by having a fence placed on the doorways, only allowing employees in proper attire to enter the rooms (i.e. clean footwear and gloves on), as well as moving more fragile artefacts to a more secure warehouse to prevent damage due to time, weathering, and bad conditions. Essentially, heritage management is put into effect by actively preserving the tangible artefacts.

Community Stewardship.  Events and activities are held in the Whitehern house throughout the year, involving members of the local and surrounding communities. Such events include school field trips where children are taught how to scrub with a washboard, roll dough, or  mending/sewing (i.e. a good way to experience the daily activities that people took part in in the past). Other activities also include “Wednesdays at Whitehern” where live music is set up on the lawn, for local musicians to perform, and where tea and lemonade are provided. This active engagement with the community embellishes the importance of this site, especially since the original residents, the McQuestens, were key members of the development of history in Hamilton. 

Cultural Tourism.   This civic museum gets especially busy during the holidays, with local residents and other tourists visiting. It seems that the Whitehern Historic House and Garden is involved with the Ministry of Tourism in some way as it has its own page on Tourism Hamilton

Accessibility. Although the hours of operation seem to be limited (12PM-4PM; closed on Mondays), admission costs are fairly reasonable. Being a McMaster student, one benefit was that admission was FREE. The one thing that this building lacked was a ramp to provide access for those who are in wheelchairs. This however is understandable since adding a ramp would require reconstruction at the site which could potentially damage important artefacts. To compensate for this, a virtual tour is available online. However, this could bring up issues and concerns as to why admission is required from those who visit the site whereas the same tour online is provided for free. It could be argued that the full experience is not received through the virtual tour, especially since the exhibit is not included. Also, the virtual tour does not provide the same sensations one would get on the actual tour at the house, with a tour guide dressed as a servant and music from the earlier time periods playing in the background (Fig. 5).

All-in-all, the Whitehern is a fine-example of a historic home. It is a perfect place to discover and explore the heritage of Victorian ideas and possessions as well as the heritage of the city of Hamilton. 


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Atalay, S. (2012). Chapter 2: Origins of Community-Based Participatory Research. In Community-Based Archaeology: Research with, by, and for Indigenous and Local Communities, pp. 33-52. University of California Press.
Cultural heritage: a basic human need – Sada Mire at TEDxEuston. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 6 March 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4UQYem6Dvc.
Rix, J., Lowe, T. and the Heritage Forum (2010). Including people with learning diffficulties in cultural and heritage sites. International Journal of Heritage Studies 16(3): 207-224. DOI: 10.1080/13527251003620743.


Heritage found at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market


The city of Hamilton is full of heritage. Many of the buildings we enter everyday (for school, work, or recreational activities) has had some kind of heritage designation. Take for example, the Hamilton Farmers’ Market. The Hamilton Farmers’ Market is one of the most popular places to mosey around throughout the week, especially during early Saturday mornings to purchase some great local produce, and coffee! The Hamilton Farmers’ Market has been a place where Hamiltonians have met since the early 1800’s – 1837 to be exact. It has always been located on York Boulevard, right in the heart of Hamilton’s downtown core. It has gone through many facelifts and renovations, and today it stands out as a sleek, modern building, attached to the Hamilton Public Library, Jackson Square, and the First Ontario Centre. Around 60+ vendors can be found inside the market, most of them being there since its conception. Some of these venders are brand-new local businesses, while others are rotating wineries and bakeries with home bases found somewhere in and around the Niagara Escarpment. While its popularity has waned during its last round of renovations, it has continued to be a Hamilton heritage hotspot.

Throughout the main level of the market, a timeline of pictures and events can be found. The land that the market is located on was bought in 1837 for the purposes of bringing the community together through the sale of local vegetables, meats, and bakery goods. It wasn’t until 1895 that the market became a covered building, open and accessed all year round. Unfortunately during the early 1900s, a major fire broke out and destroyed many of the stalls. This was not the end of the market as Hamiltonians are very resilient. The vendors created new stalls and remained opened during the rebuild. By 1980 the market had become a fully enclosed, multi-floor building, taking up the space of a whole city block. In 2011, a remodel was needed due its growing popularity in the city. Now each vendor has movable stall walls, electricity, and running water. Moreover, today the market also has rooms for community meetings, teachings, and baking sessions. One of the most striking additions from the 2011 revamp was the restoration of the iconic Birk’s clock. The clock was taken from the old Birk’s store that used to be a next-door neighbor to the market during the 1800s. Today, this clock can be found hanging right in the center of the market. During the late 1800s/early 1900s, it was a tradition for locals to meet under the city hall clock for a coffee and stroll through the market during. Today, instead of using the city hall clock as a meeting place (since it is not connected to the market anymore), many families and friends use the beloved Birk clock as a meeting place.


The market has always been an accessible site for community members. Whether you need the help of a wheel chair or cane to move around, the Farmers’ Market has been created as an easily accessible building. With ramps, elevators, and volunteer services available, many disabled and elderly Hamiltonians can get their shopping done. Additionally, these ramps and elevators are not located in out-of-the-way locations. The ramps lead you straight down into the front of the market, and the elevator is found just off from the center. No discrimination or prejudices can be seen from market goers, as the market is a place for everyone to enjoy. Moreover, information about meetings and baking sessions can not only be found on their website and social media platforms (Facebook and Instagram), but can also be found in the form of flyers and posters at the market and Jackson Square (for those who do not have access to the internet). It is a community area open and accepting for all members of society – homeless, disabled, rich or poor. The accessibility and openness of the market is one of the main reasons why it is such a popular heritage landmark in Hamilton.

The Hamilton Farmers’ Market, hands down, plays an integral role within in the Hamilton community. It is not uncommon to find people meeting underneath the iconic Birk’s clock, or from outside the market doors on York Blvd, or even inside the entrance from Jackson Square. This market plays an important part of Hamilton’s heritage, as it has been able to bring the community together for over 100 years. Whether you are vegan, ultra vegan, vegetarian, carnivore, omnivore, gluten-free/dairy-free, or an extreme cheese lover, or in the mood for Indian, British, Portuguese, or Chinese, the market can offer and accommodate you in whatever way you need it to.


How does Accessibilty Fit into Heritage?


There are a lot of expectations that tourists have while visiting heritage sites. While it is common for those who manage the sites to invest hundreds into creating engaging and accurate representations for their visitors, they often forget about creating a space accessible to all of its visitors. While I believe that many spaces are capable of managing an accessible space, there are some cases which make it difficult. After a recent visit to Dundurn Castle, I would like to use it as a case study to highlight the challenges of accessibility in heritage.

Dundurn castle, located in Hamilton, Ontario, and has had a key impact on the identity of the city. The castle has stood at its current size since 1835, when Sir Allan McNab owned the estate with his family. Its impressive size continues to stun people who pass through, as it still holds the elegant charm it once did in the past. After a guided tour of the site, visitors are able to gain an appreciation for not only local history, but also the work which cultural historians have put into maintaining the site to its highest point of preservation, from hand painting the marbled walls, to the small toys of the children who grew up there.

While visiting Dundurn castle proved to be an extravagant guided tour of history, its unfortunate downfalls as a historic site lie within its accessibility issues for the public. While maintaining the heritage left on site, the ability to access the building has become an issue. The set-up of tour uses steep and uneven steps, poor lighting, and extremely small passages that even able-bodied individuals struggle to move through. Those with poor vision, or any form of disability which may require assistance to mobility will most likely be unable to access the site. Although many of the visitors whom tour may not recognize this, it becomes almost ironic considering Sir Allan McNab ended up suffering from Gout, and was confined to a wheelchair for part of his life.


The debate lies within how much of history should be changed for accommodation. Over the years, 3 million dollars have been spent on maintenance and preservation of the original assets within the home. In staying true to the authenticity of the site they have presented a pure and realistic image of life in the castle. It calls to question if it is truly ethical to alter the representation with modern ideas of accessibility? As an advocate for equal accessibility, this question proves a challenge to answer. In some cases, the ability to make accessible additions does not drastically change historic grounds, and can be quite easy to build into the makeup of the site. In this case, the building would have to be heavily renovated to become completely accessible to those with some types of physical limitation. There would need to be the addition of elevators, wider halls, and ramps throughout the building. This means high construction costs, maintenance precautions, and threat to the original structure of the building, the latter being the most difficult seeing the age of the building.

In the case of Dundurn castle, I believe that it is possible to find solutions to the problem. In order to bypass any undue hardship, the site needs to provide some form of compensation for fair participation. This means that those who run the site may be able to create accessible tours, where tours could be made accessible to those with physical limitations by allowing wheelchair ramps to the main floor, or with portable lighting for those with visual limitations. This could mean creating a secondary tour route that would be on an accommodating path, but could still be strategic in highlighting the history of the site. While it may not completely address all of the accessibility problems on site, it presents a simple solution to give everyone an opportunity to participate in the history of the building.

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

University Hall at McMaster University: A Heritage Site on Campus

What is heritage? I’m sure that many different scholars and educators have different definitions of this term. For the purpose of this blog I have come up with my own definition: heritage is property or items that have historical roots to an area or group. It has an impact on at least some members of the community and serves as a preservation of the origins of a society as we know it today.

When thinking about the cultural heritage in Hamilton, one of the first things I think of are the beautiful old buildings at McMaster University. McMaster was founded in Toronto in 1887 but moved to Hamilton in the 1930’s which began the foundations of the school we know it to be today. Wallingford Hall, Edwards Hall, University Hall, and Hamilton Hall were four of the original buildings in location at McMaster University in the 1930’s and still stand today. I’d like to look at University Hall to be of particular importance to the cultural heritage of Hamilton because it displays much of McMaster’s relationship with the Hamilton community, sort of documenting the history of the school while in Hamilton.

UH Bust
Bust of William McMaster on the main floor of University Hall

I see McMaster as an important part of the history of Hamilton. Since moving the school from Toronto to Hamilton, the city has thrived alongside the university and each has an invested interest in the other, and I don’t think that either can be thought of as independent from the other. Additionally, much of the architecture of the building has remained intact as a part of the preservation of the history of the school. The inside of the building serves not only scholarly educational purposes but also holds a museum of sorts with photos of the school, students, and faculty as time has gone by. The success of the university has been dependent on the success of the city and vice-versa, which is why I think that University Hall serves to be a great example of a cultural heritage site for not just McMaster but Hamilton as a whole.

The building itself has retained much of its age and historic appeal, with minor additions to allow increased accessibility. There is an elevator accessible entrance on the west side of the building, as well as an electronically run accessibility device to help with the half-stairs on the main floor, and electronic buttons to automatically open doors for people who need it. As preservation is an issue with many older buildings, I think McMaster has done an excellent job of preserving and maintaining the historic qualities of the building while making it accessible to an increased number of people. With the ability to reach all floors without hindrance or much inconvenience, not only are classes and offices available to all, but the museum aspect of the interior is available. The outside of the building looks almost identical to the photos of when it was originally built, thus the architectural qualities of the building have remained untouched. This increased accessibility is important to a university that strives and advocates for equality and accessibility for all, and shows McMaster’s engagement with the school and community to be available to as many people possible.

Convocation Hall on the second floor of the building is an important room in the building, holding guest lectures, exams, and of course – convocation ceremonies. The interior of the room is lined with glass cases that houses photos of graduating classes, sports teams, and residence members from the transfer of the school to Hamilton. This is not only an important part of the history of McMaster but also important to the history of the city, for it is less likely than now for students to travel too far away from home in order to get an education. Despite an increase in accessibility to the building, this beautiful taste of history is available for people to see only when the doors to the room are unlocked. I have a bit of an issue with this; I was unable to get any photos of the inside of Convocation Hall because the doors were locked – and I had arrived there at about 2:00 in the afternoon. Although it’s not promoted as a museum it still contains so much history that is important to the identity of not only students of McMaster but to members of the Hamilton community.

Shouldn’t photos that document the vital role of McMaster to the city of Hamilton be accessible to people more frequently? I think so. I think that McMaster should either keep the doors to Convocation Hall unlocked during school hours, or they should move the photos to a hallway – perhaps in the main entrance of the building – for more people to see them. A room that contains such important photos to the history of tens of thousands of students, faculty, and community members shouldn’t be confined to one room that restricts access to those exclusive enough to gain entrance for some reason.

In addition to the photos inside of Convocation Hall, the hallways on the first floor of the building have local art on display. I think this shows the continued reciprocal relationship between McMaster and its community. By displaying this art in University Hall it reinforces the importance and refreshes the cultural heritage aspect of the building. The combination of new and old photos shows that University Hall (and McMaster University on a larger scale) continues to develop itself as a museum.

UH Modern Art
Modern art displayed on the main floor of the building.

University Hall, both inside and out, is a perfect example of a heritage centre in Hamilton. It documents McMaster’s relationship with the city of Hamilton for a span of over 80 years and continues to update its displays to reflect the continually growing relationship. Despite the minor setback of the inaccessibility of Convocation Hall to the public (or students, for that matter) on most days, University Hall has done an incredible job of making their building accessible to a vast array of people. It is a great example of a heritage centre done right.



My Archaeology: Issues Around Repatriation

I have decided to make a blog in response to Doug’s Blog Challenge, which asks the question: What are problems with your archaeology?

Problems with my archaeology have to do with contemporary repatriation. I am very proud of my Greek heritage and it saddens and disgusts me to know that many of the treasured Ancient Greek artifacts are situated in the British Museum. At a time when Greece was oppressed under Ottoman rule, Lord Elgin received permission to remove many of the marbles from the Parthenon and around the Acropolis in Athens. These artifacts had no cultural resonation with the Ottoman Turks, and although they had legal precedence to permit Lord Elgin to remove them, they had no cultural basis. Greece has sought to re-obtain cultural heritage that unquestionably belongs to them, but have been met with much resistance by the English. This is a problem that is much bigger than Greece and their marbles. Indigenous populations within Canada and the US have had similar issues with repatriation. Due to cultural differences, they have had difficult times proving to their respective government, and to other indigenous groups that specific aspects of their culture belong to them.

Both Canada and the United States have taken steps towards the repatriation of indigenous heritage. The US established the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGRPA) in 1990 with three ways in which an indigenous group can claim remains or artifacts: Lineal descent (a direct ancestral line), Indian tribe (a tribe, band, or nation recognized by the US Government), or cultural affiliation (there must be a link reasonably traced between a present-day tribe and an identifiable earlier group). This within itself is problematic; what are the standards for proving descent? Does the United States Government recognize every single tribe, band, and nation? What about those that aren’t recognized? These and other issues were brought up in the discovery of the Kennewick Man.

Kennewick Man
Photo of the remains of the Kennewick Man, the cause of Native American repatriation controversy.

Although the United States has taken steps towards making repatriation of Native American culture a smoother process the flaws within their system are evident and still hinder many groups from access to their own artifacts. Canada has taken a bit of a different approach towards repatriation. The first treaty to have provisions for repatriation of indigenous artifacts came into effect in 2000, returned to the Nisga Nation of British Columbia. In the beginning of repatriation, it was the museums which had obtained these artifacts that worked with the indigenous groups to return them. Currently (as far as my research tells me) there is no Canadian equivalent to NAGPRA and each instance of repatriation seems to be on a case-by-case basis.

What happened to the Greeks could have happened to any other group, another example being the Jews in Israel. When Jerusalem was under Palestinian rule, the Palestinians could have sold ancient Jewish artifacts to any museum in the world – they have the legal right to do so. However, now that Jerusalem is under Jewish law once again, they would have been facing the same problems as the Greeks. There are many issues around repatriation that need to be addressed.

Politics is complicated, so I don’t expect there to be any straight forward answer.  The recent economic crisis in Greece is further cause for speculation that Greece is unable to maintain and care for their cultural heritage. However, if given the opportunity I do not doubt that they would maintain care of them just as they are currently taking care of all the artifacts they currently have in their possession. In fact the Acropolis Museum has spots waiting for the caryatids upon their return.

Erechtheion caryatids
Image of the Caryatids of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

The hesitation the Greeks and Native Americans are being met with by the respective governments is like a cultural colonization. The resistance to return these artifacts is a backwards step in societal progression. This is an example of the continued commodification, and in the case of the Indigenous groups, westernization of other cultures. These artifacts are seen and treated, essentially as objects without meaning. Yes, I’m sure that the museums that currently house the Greek and Native American heritage understand their importance, but it is very difficult to understand their meanings without displaying and treating them exactly as their respective cultures would.

It seems to me that those same cultures and groups are being tossed aside by the respective governments’ lack of care regarding the meaning of these artifacts to these groups. These same items that are seen as a commodity and objects of desire to the cultures and nations which possess them have a deeper historical, cultural, and patriotic meaning to the cultures from which they come. My archaeology, the issues of repatriation, although having had steps taken towards rectifying, has a long way to go.


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: