Victoria Underfoot: Excavating a City’s Secrets
November 4, 2013
Review By R. Matson
This is a colourful guidebook to the archaeology of Victoria, both with regard to pre-contact Northwest Coast Aboriginal peoples and of the extremely varied inhabitants of postcontact Victoria. It ranges from a three thousand-year-old wet site, with remains of perishable baskets, to the historic archaeology of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, to standing buildings (and basements), not excluding a leper colony for the Chinese on D’arcy Island. A number of authors contributed to this volume, eleven by my count, several of whom are involved in multiple chapters and/or sidebars. The general level of the chapters is appropriate, although there is some variation in quality and amount of integration with other contributions. Visually, this book is bright and attractive with over a hundred colour photographs and charts.
The volume begins with a general introduction by the editors and ends with former provincial archaeologist Bjorn Simonsen’s summary of the current legal and actual situation of archaeology in British Columbia. Other chapters are arranged chronologically, beginning with prehistoric archaeology, then moving to mid- to late nineteenth-century archaeology, and finishing with standing archaeology (or, in one case, basement archaeology!).
I particularly enjoyed “On the Beach: the Wonders of Wet Sites,” by Morley Eldridge; “Burial Cairns and Mounds: The Landscape of the Dead,” by Darcy Mathews; “Buried Pots Recall Early Chinese Immigrants,” by Grant Keddie; and “Under Victoria’s Sidewalks,” by Janis Ringuette. I thought the emphasis on nineteenth-century archaeology, including First Nations, Europeans, and Asians, was fruitful as it is unusual to see these varied ethnicities treated in a similar fashion. I also thought that the academic quality was quite high.
Some things did not work so well. The extensive use of colour could have been reduced and more emphasis placed on detailed black-and-white line drawings (e.g., a better map would have been helpful). Several explanations and illustrations seemed out of place, and a rather idiosyncratic prehistoric phase sequence is given. A set of references is provided (something that is often missing in guidebooks), which, for several chapters, is very complete and very academic; however, it does not lead the reader to more general and available additional readings. These are merely quibbles. Victoria Underfoot is an interesting and informative volume for visitors and residents. It would be very nice to see a set of similar volumes for other places in British Columbia.