This week saw an all-too-familiar case of human remains disturbed by residential construction, this time in Cadboro Bay close to the University of Victoria. There are two major known sites in Cadboro Bay and many others must be there as well (I haven’t checked to see what has and has not been recorded). In addition to these known very large sites, it has been known since the 19th century (e.g., Cadboro Bay: Ancient City of the Dead — 6 meg PDF) that the slopes leading down from the top of Gordon Head were favoured places for human burials. So, no one could be surprised to find human remains in this area and indeed this is what happened.
A twist on the usual story comes with the reporting that the landowner, identified as Henry Ravenscourt, had had an archaeological impact assessment done and yet then excavated out almost the entire soil and subsoil of the lot in question. According to the Times-Colonist:
The property had been designated an archaeological site in Oct. 2008 when an Archaeological Impact Assessment was conducted there. Under the Heritage Conservation Act, the landowner was required to obtain a permit before digging, however, it appears no permit was granted for the new-home construction.
The Globe and Mail reports that,
Provincial [sic – probably consulting] archeologists who had been monitoring the property alerted police last Wednesday after discovering that workers digging the foundation for a new home had unearthed a human skull, knee and leg bone.
VicNews.com has added information: the Police say the landowner was in possession of the Archaeologist’s report:
Sgt. Julie Fast with Saanich police said the homeowner could possibly face charges through the Heritage Conservation Act because an Archaeological Impact Assessment was done on Hibbins Close in October 2008. That assessment designated it an archaeological site, which means, before any digging or building takes place, a permit issued through the Provincial Archaeological Branch is required.
“From what I understand, the homeworker is supposed to be in possession of the (permit). We are determining if they were aware (of the Archeological Impact Assessment), and if they had the letter,” Fast said.
The permit would designate how deep digging can be done and where a structure can be built without disturbing any remains on the property.
It is hard to say what is really going on here. If an AIA was conducted in October 2008, then surely the landowner had a copy of the report. Were there archaeologists monitoring the site? That would be consistent with a development process whereby archaeologists routinely watch backhoes and then jump in when the skulls start rolling. But surely the archaeologists would not have allowed such complete removal of material in such an uncontrolled way? I visited the site last week and saw how several, perhaps 10, dump trucks worth of material from almost the entire lot had been removed and there were only token piles of backfill. Where did this soil go? It undoubtedly contains human remains and archaeological material. I trust the Archaeology Branch is tracing its whereabouts.
It is very welcome that the Police are considering charges in this case and I certainly hope that if a landowner or developer ignores an AIA recommendations that they get the book thrown at them as firmly as possible. Contrary to what the newspapers are reporting that the owner is subject to a 2,000 dollar fine, there appears to be a contravention under Section 13(2) of the Heritage Conservation Act, for which the maximum penalty under Section 36(3)a is $50,000 and six months for an individual, and 1,000,000 for a corporation. It is essential that the justice system starts to deal with these people in a serious manner. By completely removing the archaeological material from the property a landowner could in effect raise the property value by more than 50,000.
I share Songhees archaeologist Ron Sam’s cynicism though:
“They know full well there’s bones under there and they just go ahead and do it anyway because they know there’s no penalty,” Mr. Sam said, adding that the band is seeking legal advice. “We can say what we want, but at the end of the day it’s private property and we can’t stop it.”
Perhaps not. But those charged with managing and enforcing the Heritage Conservation Act and those responsible for gathering evidence and laying charges must start to make examples of those who flagrantly destroy the collective heritage.
Also check out this busybody’s letter to the Times-Colonist complaining about the costs incurred and implying the archaeologists are just making work. Chris Harker of North Saanich, you officially have no idea what you are talking about.