Tag Archives: Heritage Conservation Act

Heritage Dinosaurs?

Closeup of the skull and teeth of Vancouver Island's Puntledge River elasmosaur. Source: BCfossils.ca

Only occasionally does this space turn its eye to fossils, but there’s been quite a bit of press this last week about the perceived lack of protection of fossil sites in British Columbia, some of which are alleged to be ground up for “kitty litter” (archive, etc).  In that CBC report the Minister of Agriculture and Lands lists a whole variety of ways that fossil sites are, indeed, protected, in response to the general position of the paleontologists that there was no such legal protection. I believe this page summarizes the government’s position (which does indeed explicitly allow commercial exploitation in principle, though they are not currently taking kitty litter applications.  The page is a virtual museum of weasel words and contradictory information and frankly, makes almost no coherent sense).

Anyhow,  the most direct and obvious way that such sites are, in my opinion, already protected, or the way they could be: by the Heritage Conservation Act (HCA).

Continue reading

Convictions in Yakima Looting Case, with comments on B.C.

Looting at Wakemap Mound, 1957.

A news snippet from Washington State: from the Yakima Herald-Republic, via the excellent Washington Department of Archaeology and Heritage Preservation Blog.

“Yakima, Wash. — Two Goldendale residents found guilty of looting American Indian artifacts from a Yakama Nation cultural site have been sentenced to pay $6,690 in damages and placed on two years probation. The pair have also been sentenced to 150 hours each of community service.Devin Prouty, 27 and Tiffany E. Larson, 24, both pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to unlawfully removing artifacts, including rocks, rock flakes made by indigenous people and arrowheads from Spearfish Park near the Columbia River in Klickitat County…”

Looting is a serious problem in Washington and Oregon States but is it one in British Columbia as well?

Continue reading

CRM problem at Englishman River

Excavation of house foundations at Englishman River. Source: CBC

Hmm, I just noticed today is the first anniversary of this blog.  Mind you, it was a slow and intermittent affair at first but with more regular posting has come steady increase in readership.

But you know who else had a birthday on April 20th?

With that in mind, what better way to celebrate than by checking out the firestorm brewing on the Englishman River, where some landowners, perhaps wilfully ignorant, have had an unfortunate series of events transpire regarding an archaeological site on their property. The Archaeology Branch has responded to the story with a terse memo.

A little background to start:

All archaeological sites in B.C. dating to before 1846 A.D. are protected under the Heritage Conservation Act.  This is true whether or not they are known to the Archaeology Branch or unknown and unrecorded.  In some ways, then, it is not relevant that the site under these people’s house was first recorded, I am told, in 1975.  Even if it was first discovered by the application of a backhoe in April 2010, it would be accorded the same protection under the law. The fact that the landowners claim to have not known about the site until recently is an interesting issue that does not really materially affect the facts of this case. And, under the standard procedures in place, they are indeed responsible for paying the costs of the archaeological investigations, in this case reported to be $35,000.  Whether or not they have the money also doesn’t affect the facts of the case – incidentally, these people who self-portray as poor and unemployed are finding archaeology because they are building a new house on their property, which must be costing them several hundred thousand dollars.

So, these facts may not actually alter the legal responsibilities, but they do however very strongly affect the way this issue is seen to be unfolding.

Continue reading

CRM Problem in Cadboro Bay

cadboro bay mess

Uncontrolled destruction of Archaeological Site in Cadboro Bay, Victoria.

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.

cadboro bay mess 2

Note how close the excavation is to the property line.