Davis MacIntyre & Associates conducted an archaeological resource impact assessment of a downtown Halifax development that covered a large portion of a historic city block in 2015. This assessment included a a background study, mechanical testing, monitoring, and mitigation of archaeological features through both hand excavation and mechanical excavation.

Investigative Stage

Background Research:

Background research revealed a wide range of historic occupations and uses since the founding of Halifax in 1749, including waterfront businesses and drinking establishments, a foundry, a portion of Alexander Keith's famous brewery, and both single-family homes and boarding houses. Outbuildings and privies were also identified through historic mapping, and a predictive model was developed using nineteenth and early twentieth century fire insurance plans. This model took into account where previous structures had stood, and where newer buildings could have removed all trace of older ones.

Mitigation Stage

Mechanical Testing:

The predictive model was used to develop a testing strategy in advance of the full project excavation. A series of eight test trenches were excavated with a mechanical excavator in order to determine the presence and location of any intact archaeological resources, as well as to assess the extent of previous disturbance that could have damaged or removed archaeological material. When in situ archaeological material was identified, it was clear that archaeological monitoring of the larger excavation project would be necessary.


Monitoring of the mechanical excavations took place throughout the initial phase of the project. Whenever archaeological material was identified, archaeologists on site would record any features and collect any exposed artifacts, and then determine whether mechanical excavation could proceed. In the cases of significant and intact archaeological features, mechanical excavation would halt (or relocate to another area of the site) while a larger archaeological team moved in to excavate by hand and record the feature.

Excavation and Recording:

Small teams of two to four archaeologists would work to excavate any identified archaeological features, determining their extent both horizontally and vertically, collecting artifacts in a controlled manner, and recording features through notes, measurements, and photographs for future reference. Nineteen individual archaeological features were recorded during this project.


A selection of artifacts recovered from the site, photographed by Vanessa Smith.