How a team of researchers at George Brown College is bringing a voice to a forgotten community
In the town of Deep River, Ontario, sits an unassuming log cabin located on the grounds of a yacht and tennis club.
The town surrounding the cabin along the Ottawa River is known for housing scientists who conducted top-secret nuclear research at Chalk River Laboratories during the Second World War.
But for Steffanie Adams, a professor from the School of Architectural Studies at George Brown College, the cabin and the land it sits on have a different story to tell.
Prior to the establishment of Deep River in 1944 and the government’s expropriation of the land, Adams’ grandparents and their children (including her father) lived in the cabin, which her grandfather built in 1928. The cabin—known as The Adams House—was one of several dwellings in the Algonquin community along the shore of the Ottawa River, and is the only home that still stands today.
“I grew up seeing this cabin and hearing stories from my grandmother,” Adams recalls. “I never went inside because it was used for storage. But I always felt connected to it and intrigued to learn more.”
The cabin, which is the only known Algonquin-built structure in Canada, remains unprotected.
Determined to preserve her family’s legacy and the area once known as the “Indian Village”, Adams gathered a team of George Brown students to assist her and launched “The Silent Community” study, supported by the college’s Ignite Fund.
The study aims to capture the history of the village and its people through 3D digitization of the cabins and surrounding landscape using laser scanning technology and historical aerial photographs and surveys.
Adams hopes that the research can eventually be used in virtual and augmented reality applications, where people will be able to immerse themselves in a recreation of the village.
“We’re trying to create a timeline and tell the stories of the families who lived on this land,” Adams says. “We need to honour the legacy of what was there before, and acknowledge that the land really belongs to the Algonquins.”
Nassim Ravaee, who is completing her final semester of George Brown’s Architecture Technology program, enjoyed gaining unique hands-on experience as a contributor to the Silent Community project. Along with two fellow students in the program, Ravaee used cutting-edge technology to create animated and 3D-printed representations of the lost village.
“I was really lucky to get to work on such a large-scale project,” Ravaee says. “I even had the chance to visit and experience the site myself, which helped me connect to the project on a deeper level.”
Ravaee’s experience speaks to the importance of applying classroom learning to real-life situations, which is a key component of George Brown’s programs.
“This project was much more than a job for me—it was a huge part of my life for six months,” Ravaee says. “It helped me with problem-solving skills and also boosted my presentation confidence. I’ve worked in collaboration with my classmate, Robert Donnelly, who has also been a contributor of this unique project.”
On February 10th, George Brown’s Alumni Relations co-hosted an event with the School of Architectural Studies to showcase The Silent Community project and present its findings to alumni, students, faculty, staff, and members of the college’s extended family. Adams was joined by her father and other descendants of the former neighbouring log cabins.
“We were honoured to co-host Professor Adams’ exhibit,” says Krisztina Arany, Director of Advancement and Alumni Relations at George Brown College. “Our goal is to bring together alumni, students, and others from GBC’s extended networks to continue building an impactful learning community on campus and beyond, and this event did just that.”
Adams is trying to secure more funding to move on to the next phase of the project and hopes to get other professors and experts involved. She also wants to develop an implementation plan for preserving the cabin and area.
Although grateful that the yacht and tennis club maintained the cabin, Adams sees its potential for much more than a storage facility. “Can we actually make this cabin a destination? We don't know until we try, and there's a real momentum within the community because of our research project,” she says.
Adams is determined to memorialize the families who lived in the cabins, noting that these residents weren’t able to own property or make economic gains due to systemic barriers.
“Reconciliation isn't just giving a land acknowledgement,” Adams says. “It's offering something more. We hope our work at the college will provide this opportunity.”