Book Review: Prehistoric Lakeheaders – The 90-Century Story of Pre-Contact Thunderbayans by Alan Wade

Alan Wade is giving a talk about his book on Saturday, March 30 at 2:00 pm at the Waverley Library in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Prehistoric Lakeheaders – The 90-Century Story of Pre-Contact Thunderbayans  is available at Amazon.ca in both paperback and kindle and at Amazon.com



This book is not a technical, scholarly treatise, but rather a practical guide written in language non-experts can follow and learn from. A couple of decades ago Alan knew very little about the early human history of the Thunder Bay area– just like many of the people who will read this book – and his book is primarily geared toward this audience. Alan is not an archaeologist but he has learned much about the prehistory of this area by reading and by talking to professional archaeologists, amateur archaeologists, historians, and anyone he encountered who is interested in this topic.  His book is a summary of what he has learned. In addition to the text, he has a very large index and many references to allow people to learn more about items that interest them. To make it more relevant to younger people who have grown up with computers, he has notes at the end of each chapter with specific references to YouTube videos and suggestion for topics to ‘Google’ to learn more.

Alan tells the story of the early settlers of the Thunder Bay area in three acts. He calls these chronological stages 1) the stone tool Thunderbayans 2) the copper tool Thunderbayans and 3) the pot maker Thunderbayans. Alan has written a book in layman’s language that begins with the first people to inhabit this area. We don’t know what they called themselves but archaeologist call them Paleoindians. Their descendants – Native Canadians, Indians, aboriginals or whatever term you prefer – lived here almost 9,000 years before Europeans and other others entered this area. It is astounding that the human history of this area is primarily the history of Native Canadians and that only the last 4% is the history of both Native Canadians and European descendants. Alan refers to the years before the arrival of European explorers as the “missing years”. There has been relatively little written about these early people and almost all that has been written has been by professional archaeologists – virtually all of whom are European descendants – and very little by Native Canadians.

Bill Ross, who was the Regional Archaeologist for the Ministry of Culture for over a decade, has noted that most archaeologists write and produce papers for other archaeologists. These specialized papers are usually loaded with technical terms and some are so jargon-filled that they are very difficult for the average person to follow. Alan writes that they are as interesting to read as a phone book and strives to write jargon free. Susan Martin, a Michigan archaeologist specializing in the study of prehistoric copper and its uses by the Native People of the Lake Superior region, has written that most archaeologists “spend so much time categorizing and comparing artifact types that they confine their audience to what other archaeologists think and forget the humans who created the record they are studying.” Alan uses Susan and Lakehead University archaelogist Scott Hamilton as examples of professionals in this area who write scholarly articles as well as books that non-experts can understand.

Alan writes extensively about the Cummins site, a Palaeoindian site on the edge of Lake Minong, a post-glacial lake swollen by melting glacial ice that was a predecessor to Lake Superior. The site is located ten kilometres from Lake Superior on a former Lake Minong beach. It was found over fifty years ago by volunteers working under the guidance of Hugh Cummins. At a ceremony dedicating a placque commemorating the site, Bill Ross said that “we probably have 40 sites within the city limits, or at least close to the city, of this age and it started with one amateur.” Many well known archaeological sites – Brohm, Biloski, Renshaw, McClusky, MacGillivry, Crane, etc, – are named after the amateur archaeologist who found them. There are way more amateurs than professionals and professional archaeologists are usually busy keeping up in their profession, supervising students, teaching classes, carrying out administrative duties, etc and the vast majority of new archaeological sites and important artifacts are found by amateurs.

Professional archaeologists in Thunder Bay, like Ken Dawson, Bill Ross and Scott Hamilton, have successfully worked with amateurs to the benefit to both. Some amateurs got interested by finding arrowheads, scrapers, pieces of pottery or other artifacts when camping, hunting or just working in their garden. Others by using metal detectors and finding ancient copper artifacts, many of them over five thousand years old, after starting metal detecting looking for coins, jewelry or other lost metal objects.

Alan mentions many local archaeologists, such as Dave Arthurs, Jill Taylor- Hollings, and Scott Hamilton who, in addition to working with amateurs, have been diligent in consulting with Elders and working with band members in archaeological surveys and excavations.

We have learned most of what we know about the early history of Native Canadians – and we learn very little about their history in grade school or high school – from non-Native men. We desperately need more written and visual information coming directly from Native People and from those that listen to and absorb what they have to tell us. Fortunately this is happening at an expanding rate and their viewpoints will give us a different and more complete perspective on the past. Alan respects and has listened to Native People, married a Native woman and his book gives us a fresh, engaged look at the early human history of the Thunder Bay area.

Alan Wade is giving a talk about his book on Saturday, March 30 at 2:00 pm at the Waverley Library in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Prehistoric Lakeheaders – The 90-Century Story of Pre-Contact Thunderbayans  is available at Amazon.ca in both paperback and kindle and at Amazon.com

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