Nineteenth-century drug paraphernalia has been found by archaeologists working at Ottawa's LeBreton Flats.
October 31, 2002 5:08 AM   Subscribe

Nineteenth-century drug paraphernalia has been found by archaeologists working at Ottawa's LeBreton Flats. The LeBreton Flats was a working-class neighbourhood just west of the Parliament Buildings. The find is from the notorious Occidental Hotel, and predates the 1900 fire that burned the neighbourhood to the ground. It was rebuilt, and carried on until the National Capital Commission tore it all down in 1962. It's been an empty field ever since, as proposals to make use of this prime space have come and gone. (Maps and images.) This year they finally began decontaminating the soil -- the new Canadian War Museum is planned for part of the site (campaign) -- whereupon this discovery was made.
posted by mcwetboy (9 comments total)
As someone who grew up a few blocks from Lebreton Flats, I consider this War Museum nonsense really disappointing, because the last thing Ottawa needs are more monuments to bureaucracy, especially after having read up on the history and all the subsequent proposals for the land - the original neighborhood was on the route to turn into a sort of Kensington Market/old Yorkville area (Toronto examples) with artists moving in at the time it was destroyed, something that certainly might have made Ottawa's development over the susbsequent 40 years plenty different.

A mixed neighborhood really should have gone back in there, and even extending those medium density housing projects south of Albert to the Flats as was at one point the plan would be preferable to see.

1890s drug paraphenalia though? That's interesting I guess. This could lead to interesting developments in our knowledge of the nineteenth century rave culture.
posted by syscom at 5:36 AM on October 31, 2002

Although the popular perception is that drug use/abuse is largely a post-WWII phenomenon, I recall reading a paper on the dating of intricate Chinese opiate paraphenalia which was conclusively dated to c. 4,900 BC. I also recall a study in 2000 of tissue from an Egyptian mummy which revealed long-term and consistent cocaine abuse which repeatedly reached near-fatal levels (i.e the bloke O'D.d every now and again!). Prehistoric incised pottery and stone carvings which indicate the use of a myriad of hallucinogens and other stimulants are commonly recorded from every continent - ergo, just as the link suggests, drug use has a long and fascinating history/prehistory, even when alcohol is discounted!

I am a little intrigued that a full-scale dig would be undertaken at such a relatively recent site, especially given that the former presence of an indigenous culture in the area can be assumed - does anyone know if the researchers are expecting that earlier material will be present (this is not mentioned in the OttawaCitizen piece)????
posted by Doozer at 5:53 AM on October 31, 2002

I'm not sure how an ancient Egyptian could have abused cocaine, as the coca plant is indigenous to South America. Perhaps it was some other substance?

Substance use (and abuse) does have an interesting history, though, and I wish that the drug policies in this country (USA) were a bit more sane. Prevention and treatment would seem to me to be better alternative to putting people in prison and throwing away the key. There was in interesting article yesterday in Salon that talked about just that, in fact.

(Full disclosure: I used to work at a substance abuse prevention agency.)
posted by eilatan at 6:34 AM on October 31, 2002

Finding opium paraphenalia from back then is like finding a Coke can from now
posted by Degaz at 6:57 AM on October 31, 2002

Well spotted eilatan - the S. American 'anomaly' you refer to it is actually considered to be one of the more intriguing hints that there may have been Old-New World contacts millenia before Columbus' time, and has been the subject of ongoing debate between South American Archaeologists and Egyptologists. I have had only a passing interest in this issue and don't want to derail the thread, so I didn't really want to refer to this debate at all. I haven't been able to find any weblinks to the hard copy of the original report I referred to above, but here's a few sites I found that seem to me to sum up the subject pretty well though. All very odd, really, but certainly not the first time questions over plant taxonomy have arisen from the archaeological record.
posted by Doozer at 7:14 AM on October 31, 2002

A nice history of Lebreton Flats (and the NCC's bungling thereof) here.
posted by Succa at 7:55 AM on October 31, 2002

Also, I think someone should re-open the Occidental Hotel in the new, uncontaminated Lebreton Flats. I agree that a War Museum would serve nobody but Sheila Copps. The Ottawa area has enough museums, it's time for more mixed-use neighbourhoods to combat the creeping suburbanism of the West End.
posted by Succa at 8:00 AM on October 31, 2002

Thanks for the links, mcwetboy. I live close to this area and have taken quite an interest in the recent War Museum development. It's too bad this space won't be devoted to prime recreation space in the city. As it was (flatted and undeveloped) it could at least be used for large festivals and whatnot.
posted by drew_alley at 8:43 AM on October 31, 2002

I believe they're planning mixed-use development for the remainder of the Flats, Succa.
posted by mcwetboy at 9:22 AM on October 31, 2002

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