New rules will help preserve archeological sites

GARY MAYGlobe and Mail

Imagine developers being told they can build a high-rise condominium overtop Pompeii, or a subdivision above the tomb of King Tutankhamen.

It’s an outrageous thought, yet the destruction of important archaeological sites has occurred time and again across Ontario, say archaeologists and aboriginal groups. Advocates for the preservation of such sites hope standards and guidelines that take effect on Jan. 1 will help to stem thedestruction of more such examples of the province’s historical and prehistoric culture.

But the president of the Ontario Association of Professional Archaeologists warns that the flip-side of the regulations will likely mean it becomes prohibitively expensive for smaller developers to proceed with projects at sites that are suspected of containing important artifacts from past societies.

Scarlet Janusas, a Tobermory, Ont.-based archaeologist, predicted the provincial culture ministry regulations could force developers to shell out 300 per cent more for archaeological studies at some locations to determine the heritage value of a property.

She said if a developer can afford to pay the bill, they’ll pass the expense on to buyers.

Meanwhile, Joe Vaccaro, vice-president of government relations for the Toronto-area Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), said development proponents are frustrated by such increasingly costly regulations.

While the cost of archaeological assessment varies according to the size and significance of the site, it’s not unusual for developers to run up bills of several hundred thousand dollars when detailed studies are required under current regulations.

Implementation of the new regulations will come more than three years after the Ipperwash inquiry reported that an estimated 8,000 sites were destroyed between 1951 and 1991 in the Greater Toronto Area alone – one-quarter of which likely merited archaeological investigation.

Archaeologists excavate the site of a proposed housing project at Young Cove near Cobourg, Ont. After the dig, some areas were deemed off-limits for development.

Archaeologists excavate the site of a proposed housing project at Young Cove near Cobourg, Ont. After the dig, some areas were deemed off-limits for development.— Photos courtesy Advance Archaeology

Toronto lawyer David Donnelly represents the Huron-Wendat First Nation in Ontario and said the province has been shamefully slow to stop that destruction. Mr. Donnelly said the Ontario Planning Act, for example, is “racist and unconstitutional” in its lack of consideration for aboriginal rights.

“It’s ridiculous that [utilities such as] Rogers Cable must be notified of an excavation, but not the First Nations people.”

That will change once the province enforces the tougher standards and guidelines that direct the work of professional archaeologists who must be called in whenever a question arises over a site’s archaeological significance.

Ms. Janusas said the new regulations will require more detailed analysis of significant sites and will certainly cause further delays for developers.

One site where the new rules would have had an impact is a soybean field in the City of Vaughan north of Toronto. The field is the site of what Mr. Donnelly calls “a capital city” of a First Nations society that existed at the dawn of aboriginal-European contact.

Skandatut, as the site is known, is thought to have been a two-hectare, late 16th-century Huron village that sat on a tributary of the Humber River, a place that once supported 100 longhouses and was home to 2,000 or more people. The site is now privately owned and the owner wants to build 204 single-family homes there as part of a larger 1,200-unit community.

Archaeologists declared the site nationally significant in 2006.

Skandatut “holds the key to unlocking many of the mysteries of the aboriginal peoples of Ontario,” said Mr. Donnelly. “To allow work to proceed on this site could be a catastrophe and a national disgrace.”

Yet the lawyer for the developer said his client has followed all the province’s rules. “My client has been unfairly maligned over all of this,” said John Alati. He said Joseph Pandolfo advised the former Huron-Wendat chief “two or three years ago” of his plans.

Under Ontario regulations dating back to 1993, developers of archaeologically significance sites must hire a certified archaeologist to conduct an assessment. The assessment, which begins by reviewing what is already known about the site, can proceed through four stages if it is found to be important enough. At any time during the process, if human remains are discovered, work must stop immediately.

If a licensed archaeologist determines a Stage 4 assessment is required, the archaeologist advises how to remove significant artifacts and whether long-term protection strategies are necessary.

Mr. Pandolfo followed the province’s rules and hired an archaeological firm to undertake a detailed study. But the old regulations never stated that the affected First Nation be advised and consulted during the assessment. The Stage 4 excavation got under way in June, without the Huron-Wendats’ knowledge. Their Ontario spokesman, Luc Lainé, said they only learned of the work by accident.

Fearful that another significant Huron-Wendat site could be destroyed, they wrote to Premier Dalton McGuinty and obtained the support of the Assembly of First Nations, the Ontario Archaeological Society and Dr. David Suzuki, then threatened court action. Last month, the province issued a stop-work order on the excavation, giving the Huron-Wendat six months to come up with a plan to preserve it.

“I hope we can work with Mr. Pandolfo to resolve this,” Mr. Lainé said. But, he added, it should never have reached this point, since the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled in other cases that First Nations must be consulted when their interests are at stake, and their views considered in any resolution.

Bone tools unearthed at a housing site near Stouffeville, north of Toronto.

Bone tools unearthed at a housing site near Stouffeville, north of Toronto. — Photo courtesy Advance Archaeology

Come Jan. 1, First Nations would have to be advised and consulted in a similar situation.

But Mr. Lainé said that, with perhaps 100 such projects on their plate right now, the Huron-Wendat lack the resources to provide meaningful input into every one of them. They can only select the most important, and he said Skandatut falls into that category.

At other sites, they have had to waive their right to investigate. In some cases, they’ve been aided by other First Nations groups.

That happened at The Narrows in Orillia, when the Rama Ojibwa stepped in after artifacts and human remains were discovered at a luxury high-rise condominium construction site.

“They came in and performed a ceremony,” said developer Mike Bowering of Mutual Gain Corp. “They blessed the spirits and thanked us for our co-operation, and then were on their way.”

But the Orillia site was a Huron-Wendat community, said Mr. Lainé, and had they had the resources, they would have been involved.

If a Stage 4 assessment finds that site protection isn’t an option, the archeologist consultant documents and directs removal of the artifacts before construction may begin. Mr. Alati said his client hopes negotiations can result in resumption of the assessment. He estimated Mr. Pandolfo has already spent $80,000 on Stage 4 alone.

Mr. Lainé said he hopes the village site “will not be disturbed. Let it remain as it is. It could even become an interpretation centre [for the Huron-Wendat culture] some day.”

The case has sent chills through the development community, however, and they’re bracing for what’s to come.

Mr. Vaccaro of BILD said the association of builders and developers has been advised that the stricter provincial regulations “will result in significant costs” to developers, as well as building delays and frustration.

As to whether the regulations will result in developers walking away from projects, Mr. Vaccaro said the industry is “much more sophisticated” in identifying potential stumbling blocks than it has been in the past.

Ms. Janusas is “encouraged” by the regulations, which she said should bring consistency to the review process. Government reviewers interpreted the old rules in different ways, she said.

Mr. Donnelly called the changes “an important step” in improving consultation. Added Mr. Lainé: “We’re happy that we must be notified, but what we want is a promise to protect our sacred sites, and that is not there.”

As an indication of how important the guidelines are, Ronald Williamson, chief archaeologist and managing partner for Archaeological Services Inc. of Toronto, pointed out that Eastern Canada has experienced three major flashpoints over land claims in recent decades – Oka, Ipperwash and Caledonia – and in all of them, “the catalysts were sacred site issues.”

Meanwhile, some developers have not only welcomed these archaeological studies, they’ve ended up incorporating their site’s history into their projects. One is Lloyd Jones, a Cobourg, Ont., businessman who partnered with Belleville builder Jamie Brauer on the Prince Edward Estates at Young Cove project in Quinte West, located at a site that was an important portage route for First Nations people and early European settlers.

“I never had any concerns that the archeological findings would be detrimental to our plans,” Mr. Jones said. “Frankly, I was thrilled by the history of the place. I find it intriguing to think that people have been there for so long.”

The archaeologist’s report required him to keep two areas off-limits from development, so they will be left for use by archeologists-in-training as teaching sites, Mr. Jones said.

He said many who have reserved homes at Young Cove (construction has not yet begun) were intrigued to learn the history of their new community. Now, he plans to make that history a feature of the community, with a parade square and a replica of the original blockhouse, called Fort Kente, which sat on the site. He plans an interpretive centre he hopes can display artifacts obtained from the site.


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