Whales bones found

Special to The Chronicle
(originally published Nov 30, 1977)
(reproduced with the kind permission of Jason Marshall, Editor)

by Clyde C Kennedy

Recent discoveries in the Renfrew-Arnprior region have added new information to the long-known fact that a "whale-path" once existed  in the Ottawa Valley.

Finds in the Valley reported over the years have included bones of white whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale and bowhead whale. These whales swam in the Champlain Sea, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that flooded into the Valley about 12,000 years ago after glacial ice, which had depressed the land, melted back toward the north. 

The land, being relieved of the enormous weight of ice, gradually rose and tipped the sea water out of the Valley toward the Atlantic by about 10,000 years ago. 

Along the margins of the Champlain Sea we find today marine mollusk shells and barnacles. I have found barnacle still clinging to boulders in the Valley after thousands of years.  A covering of sand thrown up by ocean waves protected them until they came to light again during excavations. 

For many years I have been searching  for  campsites of Paleo-Indians who are known to have lived elsewhere in northeastern North America about 10,000 years ago. During this study, in the summer of 1975, I identified the sand and gravel deposit owned by John Hanson of White Lake village as an ancient shore feature 20 to 40 feet higher than the surface of White Lake.

Confirmation of this conclusion came on October 10,1975 when Allan Jones, while taking sand from the pit about eight miles southwest of Arnprior, found bones from the right forefin of a bowhead whale.  Allan found some of the bones at the pit and others the next day when he was spreading sand he had delivered to a schoolyard in Renfrew.

Identification of the bones was made by Dr C R Harington, National Museum of Natural Sciences.   He  submitted a sample drilled from the heart of one of the bones for radiocarbon dating by Dr Wes Blake Jr, of the Geological Survey of Canada. The test showed the bones were about 11,400 years old.

As Dr Harington told me the bones were from a mature bowhead whale, the mammal was probably between 40 to 65 feet long and weighed between 40 and 70 tons. From his studies of the various animals that inhabited the Champlain Sea, Dr Harington has concluded the sea was subarctic in its early stage.

Through Tom Jones, I learned that Terry Bandy, while loading sand at the Hanson Pit on September 23 this year, had found three pieces of a large bone. His father, Glen Bandy, a Glasgow Station area farmer, kindly showed me the pieces, which totalled about seven feet in length.

I informed Dr Harington who visited White Lake with me and identified the find as a whale rib.  It was once longer than seven feet for a missing piece was not found. 

On November 5, Glen Bandy told me (as I continued my "whale-watch" in the area) that he had noticed small bits of bone in the Hanson Pit where another person had been loading sand. 

With Harry Hinchley, president of Heritage Renfrew, I went to the pit and found some bits of bone. But looking at the tons of sand that were pushed up by a front end loader and that had slumped from the face of the sand pit, the question was "where do we dig a test hole ?"

I elected to search for the boundary, between the sand disturbed by the machine and the undisturbed, layered sand. I dug down about four feet and came on the end of a bone nearly a foot wide. 

After clearing an area with a shovel, I unearthed about three feet of the bone with a hand trowel and a paint brush. The bone lay at an angle of about 20 degrees, making it clear that a very large amount of sand would have to be moved. It was now dusk on Saturday, rain was coming in later and I was concerned that a machine might destroy the bone on Monday.

Harry and I drove in the dark to Renfrew where I telephoned archaeological colleagues for assistance.   Early   Sunday morning  Phillip and  Mary Wright,  Hugh  Daechsel and Marilyn Englebert came to White Lake to assist us.

After much shovelling during intermittent  showers  we completed the exposure of the nine-foot bone with trowels and paint brushes. I guessed it was a whale jawbone, which was later confirmed by Dr Harington. 

The bones recently found in the Hanson Pit (perhaps all from the same whale) are now at  the National  Museum of Natural Sciences where their study will be of considerable scientific importance.   The generosity,   hospitality and assistance of everyone named in this article is gratefully acknowledged.

John Hanson has said he will protect the pit against damage by untrained curio seekers. The sand haulers will, like my crew, continue to search for revealing evidence of a  fascinating episode in the history of the Ottawa Valley, as I have done for the last quarter of a century.

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