Letters to the Pit

Dear Pit,

Here I send you a picture of the room where some of your minerals are exhibited. On the second floor of the Redpath Museum at McGill University, you are described as a very precious site, where ten different minerals were discovered for the first time.

After visiting this place, I became aware that I still don’t know your history before Geologists and Mr. Francon opened you and made of you the Carrière Francon. In the museum, they simply mention you are located in the former “Algonquin territory”. This is a settler colonial denomination of Tiohtià:ke/Montréal, historically known as a gathering place for many First Nations, among them the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation, custodian of these lands and waters. Like the colonial history and representations of this land, I feel like you are trapped in that static image of a quarry, and that it is impossible to imagine you as something else.

Now that I am more acquainted with some of your minerals, I assure you that you are not forgotten, you are not just a dump site and an obstacle. You have allowed the economic prosperity and the fame of few people, and Montreal to be built. I also want to assure you that other people are trying to imagine you differently and find other richness in you. As for us in the Ethnolab at Concordia University, we would love to hear more from you.



Dear Pit,

I hope this letter finds you well. I’m writing now of an experience that I had on February 10th, 2023, at nearly 2:30PM. My colleagues and I had a tour of the Redpath Museum: it’s not the first time I’ve been here; years ago, I came as part of a CEGEP course on museums and anthropology. Since then, not much has changed in terms of the layout, but what has changed are my attitudes towards the museum as an institution: as one moves through its space, it has never been more clear what attracts visitors to this locale; is it the minerals? Is it the fossilized remains of vertebrates/invertebrates? Is it coincidence that the main draw to this institution are the traces of human culture and civilization, past and current?

These questions and more came to me during our roam around the Redpath. Alas, we discovered the weloganite within seconds of starting our visit, although we thought it strange for it to be on display at the front…but not with the minerals themselves! We then discovered that the museum had its own special exhibit for minerals extracted in Quebec, within which the Francon Quarry had a section. As per the descriptions provided by the Redpath, weloganite is unique in that is not found outside Quebec; here it sits, a mineral outcrop sitting next to pictures of where it’s “supposed” to be, the pit it called ‘home’…does the weloganite know this?

Next to the Quebec mineral exhibit are dioramas related to the flora and fauna found on the island of Tio’tia:ke: did these creatures and other non-human actants call the quarry their home at one point? Was the pit ever empty, or was it full of non-human, non-speaking life? I have images of this in my mind, but is it a hopeless, romanticized vision of the past? Is there anything productive to this guilt?


Derek, a curious student