Spear point found on Canatara Beach made by Ontario’s earliest human inhabitants

Holding stone-tipped spears, a group of “Paleo Period” hunters track a caribou herd in this large mural on display at the Museum of Ontario Archeology in London. Submitted Image

George Mathewson

Sarnia’s Rick McAuley was walking on the beach at Canatara Park one day in 2015 when he spotted an unusual black stone lying on the sand.

“I knew it was a spear point,” said the retired boilermaker. “I showed it to my brother later and then I put it in a drawer.”

This fluted point, made about 13,000 years ago, was found on the beach at Canatara Park.
Photo courtesy, Museum of Ontario Archeology

McAuley didn’t know yet what a remarkable artifact he’d stumbled upon.

An analysis by the Museum of Ontario Archeology in London has determined it was manufactured about 13,000 years ago, placing it among the oldest groups of projectile points ever found in Ontario.

‘It isn’t every day you find a point like that on a beach,” said museum curator Nicole Aszalos. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful piece.”

The first inhabitants of southern Ontario arrived shortly after the end of the last Ice Age to occupy a harsh and wintry environment similar to today’s subarctic tundra.

The spear point was made during what archeologists call the Early Paleo Period, when the total population of Ontario was likely only 100 to 200 individuals living in small, mobile groups, Aszalos said.

These first inhabitants were caribou hunters who used every part of the animal: meat for food, bone for tools and hides for clothing, she said.

Rick McAuley with his collection of rocks, fossils and or artifacts

“A lot of our ideas about history in Canada are things that happened 150 or 200 years ago. Not a lot of people realize that there were people travelling through this area 13,000 years ago, living and laughing and hunting.”

The artifact McAuley found at Canatara was fashioned from a stone called Upper Mercer chert and was probably fastened to the tip of a spear or other hunting weapon.

Early Paleo communities, in addition to tracking herds of caribou, might have also used their spears on mastodon, elephant-like creatures that stood eight feet (2.4 metres) tall. Like their cousin the wooly mammoth, mastodons disappeared about 10,000 years ago.

Though the two co-existed here, no evidence has been found of a mastodon being killed in Ontario by humans, Aszalos said.

“But it is a possibility.”

A few months after McAuley was walking his dog Arielle on the beach and found the stone tool, he made another discovery.

“I was watching The Nature of Things, about the first people of America, the Clovis people, and there was my spear head,” he said.

“It was exactly like the ones on TV. It matched perfectly, and they had been pulled from the remains of a woolly mammoth.”

McAuley took the rare point to the London museum for assessment, and has since donated it to the facility for safekeeping. It is not on public display but is brought out for archeology workshops.

McAuley has found other pre-European objects in Sarnia, including more projectile points, awls and hammer stones he’s given to the museum, as well as arrow heads, netsinkers and scrapers he turned over to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation and its education program.

An archery hunter himself, McAuley said he feels a special connection to, and respect for, the unknown people who hunted game here thousands of years ago.

“I love the outdoors,” he said. “And when I’m out looking for things, I know what to look for.”