Archaeological Mysteries in the Ottawa Area

T.W. Edwin Sowter and a Possible Basis for his Certainty

Given that the above comparison shows significant discrepancies between the two accounts on a number of important points, caution must be exercised.  We can now review the great certainty exhibited by T.W. Edwin Sowter (Figure 4) in his articles and attempt to understand what the possible source of that confidence might have been.

T.W. Edwin Sowter began working at the age of 22 years for the Topographical Survey Branch of the Department of the Interior and he spent the next four decades in its employ.  He almost certainly came into contact with members of the Geological Survey of Canada (who fell under the same Department until 1890) who may have directed or channeled his keen interests in both paleontology and archaeology (Pilon 2004). 

Sowter was also an active member of the Ottawa Field Naturalists' Club, joining in 1881 (LAC n.d.b).  There, he would have met, if he did not already know him, the eminent paleontologist and archaeologist Henri-Marc Ami (1858-1931) (Figure 5) who was also a member of the Geological Survey of Canada from 1882 until 1911.  Together, Sowter and Ami would become the archaeological specialists of the OFNC, leading that group's first official archaeological excursion to Aylmer, Québec, about 10 miles upriver from the Chaudière Falls (where Sowter had lived all of his life) in 1899.  From that particular outing, a collection of human remains was gathered from Aylmer Island.  In fact, Sowter had already published on the occurrence of human remains on that island near Aylmer, Québec in his 1895 article.  Two hand-written labels that accompanied these remains in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization appear to have been written by Ami and are dated to the same day as the OFNC excursion.  Similarly, two labels that accompany fossils donated to the GSC by Sowter in 1908, appear to be of Ami's hand when compared to samples of his hand-writing in the Archives of the Canadian Museum of Civilization (Figure 6).  Clearly the two individuals were frequent collaborators. 

Sowter was born in 1860 and Edward Van Cortlandt died in 1875 (Moffat 1973:30).  It would appear unlikely that Sowter would have acquired first hand knowledge of the location of the Ottawa Ossuary from Van Cortlandt himself.  Instead, he would more probably have received this information from a contemporary or associate of Van Cortlandt or even third hand from someone who had known such an individual.  It is highly likely that such a person would have been a member of the Ottawa Field Naturalists' Club since individuals interested in the “natural world” gravitated to this organization as they had to its precursors, the Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society and the earlier Nature Society and the Bytown Mechanics' Institute and Athenaeum (see above). 

Former site of Dr. Van Cortlandt's home in Ottawa; photo: Jean-Luc Pilon
Dr. Edward Van Cortlandt's home once stood where the imposing Veteran's Affairs building (the large greystone building in the centre of the photo) now stands on the southeast corner of Bay and Wellington Streets in Ottawa.

Given Sowter's association with Ami, and Ami's obvious interest in archaeological matters, it is quite possible that the information concerning the location of the Ottawa Ossuary had come from Ami or some unidentified, but otherwise reputable source, at least in Sowter's eyes.

One last perplexing point lies in the firm assertion by Sowter that the Ossuary had been found within the northwest angle of the intersection of Bay and Wellington Streets in Ottawa.  Dr. Van Cortlandt's home for much of his life in Ottawa was on the southeast corner of that same intersection (394 Wellington) (Moffat 1973:15), where today Veterans' Affairs Canada have large and imposing buildings.  Could the site of Van Cortlandt's home somehow have been confused with proximity to the site of the ossuary?

Introduction | Dr. Edward Van Cortlandt | A Comparison of Two Articles

The Burden of Proof | In Defence of Bédard's Landing | T.W. Edwin Sowter's Certainty

Final Considerations | 1843 Bytown Gazette Article | 1853 Van Cortlandt Article

References Cited