This year’s Canal Days celebration will be a little different than the previous 27 incarnations.
For one, the attractions will be slightly cramped, relegated to a field behind the visitor center at the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site because the usual location, the center’s parking lot, was washed away by Tropical Storm Irene.
The field will hold many of traditional food stands, live bands and even a petting zoo, the types of attractions that have drawn as many as 4,000 people in the past. This year, however, the event’s theme is a little more academic, and has nothing to do with the canal.
Under that washed-out parking lot, archaeologists found the 24- by 24-foot foundation of a fortified block house, part of the original Fort Hunter built in 1712. The discovery was too much to ignore for the event’s host, so this year’s Canal Days has an archaeological theme.
“You can’t have a historical festival without learning something,” said Tricia Shaw, the historic site’s education coordinator, “but this year we’re really concentrating on the history.”
The event headliner, state Archaeologist Michael Roets, will demonstrate some excavation techniques and explain the history of the dig.
“When the British were in Albany and Schenectady, Fort Hunter was the Wild West,” Roets explained. “It was the beginning of the westward expansion and the beginning of what we became as a nation.”
The actual Fort Hunter foundation was covered with sand last fall to prevent frost damage, but many of the artifacts found during the initial dig, from hand-carved stone beads and a bear tooth ornament to European military equipment and broken china, will be on display. Many of the artifacts were indicative of the relationship between the Europeans living in the fort and the Mohawk Indians living outside, Roets said.
The beads, for example, were a trade item. Some of the china fragments were found where the Indians lived, which shows an element of assimilation.
“The village was named after this fort,” Roets said. “It’s important to see what Fort Hunter really was.”
In the interests of education, Shaw replaced the usual children’s carnival games this year with a Native American craft table.
The more historical theme is a bit of a gamble, but she hopes it will bolster turnout. For the last few years, attendance at the annual festival has fallen steadily.
“We’ll be interested to see, with all the flood damage we’ve had, if people come out to see how far we’ve come in the last nine months,” she said.
The event was never a moneymaker for Schoharie Crossing; in fact, Canal Days rarely even breaks even. The goal is simply to bring a historical perspective to the general population. The site gets funding from grants and private donations, which have increased recently.
The Canal Days celebration will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the historical site, 129 Schoharie St. Parking and admission are free. For more information, go to http://nysparks.com/historic-sites/27/details.aspx.