Marine archaeology

Under the Ontario Heritage Act, a marine archaeological site is an archaeological site that is fully or partially submerged or that lies below or partially below the high-water mark of any body of water. (O. Reg. 170/04, s. 1.)

Ontario's bounty

Many of the cold, fresh waters of Ontario's lakes and rivers have conserved important evidence of Ontario's history of exploration, settlement and commerce. Some of Ontario's waterways have been surveyed for marine archaeological resources - leaving much to be discovered in Ontario's abundance of lake beds, river beds and shorelines.

These waters may:

  • Possess a record of the earliest First Nations peoples who travelled, traded and lived along our province's waterways for many millennia;
  • Hold the remains of former fishing traps or weirs, campsites, settlements and docks; and,
  • Contain many well-preserved ships that sank because of battles, accidents or natural disasters. These shipwreck sites are underwater "time capsules," which may contain artifacts that tell the story, and cultural context, of the moment the ship sank.

What we can do to protect these resources?

The protection of our marine heritage resources is a shared responsibility. The Ontario Heritage Act requires a person to hold an archaeological licence in order to alter or remove artifacts or any other physical evidence of past human use or activity from a known marine archaeological site. This ministry supports Save Ontario Shipwrecks in the effort to conserve and protect marine archaeological resources through public awareness. Licensees must provide notification and submit a site record form for newly discovered marine archaeological resources to the ministry.

This ministry encourages:

  • Archaeological assessment and documentation by a licensed archaeologist of marine archaeological resources prior to development, such as the construction of wharves or piers;
  • Special conservation treatment for marine artifacts based on advice from a licensed archaeologist;
  • Reporting of disturbance or damage to a marine archaeological site to the Ministry or local authorities.

Marine archaeology licences

The marine licensing program is different from the land-based system. Email the Archaeology Programs Unit for forms.


For more information contact:

Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport
Archaeology Programs Unit