Archaeology in Niagara

Archaeology is the study of past human cultures through the investigation of archaeological sites and resources.

In Ontario, these sites can be Indigenous hunting camps and villages, battlefields, pioneer homes, burial grounds and cemeteries, shipwrecks, or other evidence of past human activity.

Archaeological resources are artifacts and sites (terrestrial and marine) that are of cultural value or interest. Archaeological resources:

  • Are fragile, non-renewable records that provide important environmental, economic and social benefits
  • Offer information about past cultures that would otherwise be unavailable due to no written record

What we learn from an archaeological site isn't just from the objects we find, but also from where they were found.

If the area is destroyed by building or changing the land, we lose this important information, even if we still have the artifacts.

Importance of archaeology in Niagara

Niagara has a rich and valuable archaeological record, formed from approximately 13,000 years of human settlement activity, that cannot be replaced.

The archaeological sites and resources in Niagara are the physical remains of our settlement history.

Niagara Region recognizes the importance of conserving archaeological resources and the potential to commemorate significant archaeological discoveries in recognition of their contribution to Niagara's unique community identity.


If you have questions about how your property in Niagara will be affected, email Growth Management and Planning.

For other questions, contact the Ministry of Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Archaeology Program Unit.

Archaeological Management Plan

The Archaeological Management Plan outlines the process for the conservation of archaeological resources in Niagara.

Areas with archaeological resources

The Archaeological Potential Map identifies areas in Niagara that are likely to have archaeological resources

Archaeological assessments

Before approving a project that requires an application under the Planning Act, the local municipality or Niagara Region may need an archaeological assessment of all lands that are part of the project.

Assessments are required when the land has either a known archaeological site or is within an area of archaeological potential.

  • When an archaeological assessment is needed

    If a property is in an area of archaeological potential, the property owner will have to hire a licensed archaeologist to conduct an archaeological assessment of the property. The assessment must be done before submitting the planning application(s) if a proposed development may impact archaeological resources.

    Niagara Region's Archaeological Management Plan sets out policies for staff to use to decide if a development application needs an archaeological assessment. An archaeological assessment will be needed if the:

    • Property is in an area of archaeological potential as shown in the Archaeological Management Plan
    • Proposed development could affect archaeological resources
    • Planning application(s) is needed

    If the development only needs a building permit, staff will not review for archaeological potential.

  • Finding a licensed archaeologist

    In accordance with the Ontario Heritage Act, an archaeological assessment can only be done by firms or individuals holding valid archaeological licences.

    Licences are issued by the Province and the Association of Professional Archaeologists of Ontario has a list of practising archaeologists in Ontario.

  • Costs and duration of an assessment

    Archaeologists bid on jobs like other consulting firms and it's recommended that property owners contact more than one firm. Costs will depend on the size of the property and the level of assessment needed.

    Property owners are responsible for all costs associated with the archaeological studies. However, by taking prompt action, costs associated with delays to the project and managing more impacts to the archaeological site can be prevented or minimized.

    The length of time to complete an archaeological assessment depends on the property and level of assessment. Some assessments can be completed within weeks. However, some field survey methods, such as walking ploughed fields, can only be done at certain times of the year. For that reason, your local municipal planning department should be contacted early in the development approval process.

  • Accidental discoveries of archaeological resources

    If archaeological resources or human remains are accidentally found, see Appendix C of the Archaeological Management Plan, which is the Contingency Plan for Accidental Discoveries.

    If you think you have discovered an archaeological site or artifact:

    You will then need to arrange to have a qualified archaeologist investigate the findings, even if your project did not need a planning application. Disturbing sites without a licence is illegal and could result in a large fine.

Stages of an archaeological assessment

The technical requirements for archaeological fieldwork and assessments are specified in the Standards and Guidelines for Consultant Archaeologists.

All archaeological work in Ontario must be undertaken by a licensed archaeologist under the Ontario Heritage Act.

  • Stage 1: Background study and optional property inspection

    The licensed archaeologist visits the property and reviews

    • Previous archaeological assessments in the area
    • Ministry of Citizenship and Multiculturalism site database
    • Geographic, land use and historical information

    If areas of archaeological potential are found, a Stage 2 assessment is required.

  • Stage 2: Property assessment

    The licensed archaeologist surveys the land for archaeological resources using pedestrian and / or test pits and / or other archaeological strategies.

    If archaeological sites of sufficient cultural heritage value or interest are found, a Stage 3 assessment is required (Ontario MCM 2011a, p 27).

    The consultant archaeologist:

    • Conducts further property research and excavations
    • Determines the size of the site
    • Determines the degree of cultural heritage value or interest
  • Stage 3: Site specific assessment

    The consultant archaeologist:

    • Conducts further property research and excavations
    • Determines the size of the site
    • Determines the degree of cultural heritage value or interest

    This information informs Stage 4 recommendations (Ontario MCM 2011a, p. 45).

  • Stage 4: Mitigation of development impacts

    Conservation strategies recommended by the consultant archaeologist are implemented.

    Long-term protection and avoidance at the location is always preferred, but if not possible, the site can be documented and removed through excavation (Ontario MCM 2011a, p. 67).

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