toronto schooner

Mystery schooner to get new home at Fort York

The remains of a historic schooner unearthed during excavations for a condo building near Bathurst and Fort York Blvd. are going to get a permanent new home at Fort York. But first, archaeological experts will have to carefully extract it from the bottom of a deep pit.

The wooden hull was discovered in May by archaeological firm ASI at the bottom of the foundation pit for the Forward Condos at Concord CityPlace. Located six metres below the surface, the site also includes a wooden barrel and other nautical artifacts and may date from the 1830s.

Developer Concord Adex was required to carry out a detailed study of the land as a condition of receiving building permission, but Neil Hylton, the senior project manager, says he was still excited when the boat was unearthed.

"When I heard we were all excited about it ... I'm not a history buff, but I'm interested in old things, so when I saw it it was a thrill for me and Concorde," he says. "When Fort York said they were dying to have this on their property we said we would try and move it as best we can, no guarantees."

"Tomorrow's the big day and we'll see what happens."

The fragile hull is made of white oak and weighs several thousand pounds. Concord Adex has built a special metal cradle around the keel and tomorrow a 19-ton crane will gently ease the remains out of the ground, starting at around 9:30 a.m. All being well, the schooner will make its way to Fort York on a flatbed truck, where it will be stored near the armoury.

Concord Adex says it will cover the cost of the removal.

It's not clear how the boat ended up in its current location, but 150 years ago the area south of Fort York Blvd. at Bathurst St. used to be home to the Queen's Wharf, a docking area used by the military. The shoreline was extended south in the decades that followed by dropping waste material into the water to make new land--a process called infilling.

"A lot of the fill is actually municipal garbage, particularly the filling they did in the post 1880s period," says David Robertson, a senior archaeologist with ASI. "So all the household trash, all the industrial trash from basically Bathurst St. to Sherbourne St. and south of College St.--a huge area of the city--was contributing material to this fill."

"It's like our garbage today is shipped off to a landfill site north of the city, in those days it was sent into the lake," he says.

Robertson says it's not clear at this stage whether the schooner was dumped as part of the infilling process or perhaps used to shore up part of the old Queen's Wharf. Right now, his team is working under the assumption that the vessel is of American origin.

"It's going to take a long time to answer a lot of the questions about it. And it may require a lot of digging through archival records, newspaper reports, things like that and detailed analysis of the technology of the ship."

"It's a pretty interesting find and now there's an opportunity for people to look at it and study it extensively for the foreseeable future," he says.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: ASI

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