Brick by Brick: Uncovering the Past at Point Ellice House

Dr. Kelly Black, Executive Director

It seems like each week at Point Ellice House we uncover a mystery that needs solving or a new artifact to identify. This past October was no exception! As part of our ongoing rehabilitation of the South Garden, Fallingwater Property Services began a small project to clear and level an area around our new garden shed. What began as a simple three day project became something much bigger when workers uncovered a significant but forgotten feature of the South Garden – a long and winding brick pathway about 20 centimeters below the soil.

Although we knew there was once a network of brick pathways in the South Garden (we often find bricks and remnants of bricks), we did not know the extent to which any intact paths might remain underneath the soil. To better understand what we found, we consulted past archaeology reports for Point Ellice House. The brick path network is briefly mentioned in reports from 1977, 1984, and 1989.

In the 1984 report we found a hand-drawn map showing possible brick path routes in the South Garden – these closely align with the path found in 2020. However, it appears that the presence of a path was surmised by digging test trenches and that the entire path was never uncovered. We also looked at past site interpretation and found a 1990s visitor map that indicates one section of uncovered brick path. For reasons unknown, this path was again covered over sometime in the last 20 to 30 years. Our 2020 findings reveal that this small section is connected to the longer brick pathway that winds through the location of the historical orchard. One can imagine the O’Reilly family walking this path as they picked fruit from their apple and plum trees.

Working under direction from staff at Point Ellice House, Fallingwater Property Services is now restoring this historical feature of the South Garden. As this project progresses, we continue to learn more about Point Ellice House and Victoria. We have found various shapes and types of brick – including one from Victoria’s Baker brick company and others that seem to be salvaged from a former chimney – as well as pieces of pottery, ceramic, bones, and metal.

This pathway will soon be a highlight for visitors to Point Ellice House. As a national and provincial historic site, this project is following the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. This means that as we reveal and restore the path, the work we do must protect its heritage value. The path is being taken up, brick by brick, and re-laid at the current grade. Archaeology is being saved and the entire process is being thoroughly documented. We look forward to sharing the final results of this project with the public!

[Update: December 2020 – see image of completed pathway in the image gallery below]


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