CHEK-TV video clip on the Somenos Creek archaeological situation. Click to play.
Someone passed along this CHEK-TV news item showing George Schmidt of TimberCrest Estates, Ltd., the development company wishing to put houses on top of a major archaeological site in the Cowichan Valley at Somenos Creek, which I’ve written about before: 1, 2.
Listen to the favourable treatment he gets from the newscaster. Loaded language like “In limbo”. “Pony Up”.
Hey, CHEK-TV, since you’re the voice of the people now and all that and also “journalists”, how about you dig around in the zoning history of the land before you just repeat the mantra “government must pay”. Did the developer buy this land already zoned for residential development? How much did he pay in 1972? Does he deserve compensation for having a risk turn out the wrong way for him? Does he have the right to destroy a cemetery? Is he, in fact, losing anything that he already had, or is he losing a perceived entitlement? He took a risk, he has gained mightily, and now he wants a slice of the First Nation’s pie as well.
I’d seriously suggest CHEK-TV also looks into the $500,000 amount he claims to have spent on archaeology at Somenos Creek. From what little I know of the site, I am very skeptical about that figure.
Truly, there needs to be a mechanism by which true hardship cases of conflict between development and archaeology, or where the impact assessment process has failed, can be resolved. That, indeed, may mean some government financial input. But these should be reserved for instances where other options have run out and where there is demonstrable financial hardship. This case does not pass the smell test – vast profits have assuredly been made and now legal and moral constrains are drawing a line under this development.
I say this company should stop going cap in hand to the government and just give the land up as a heritage park in return for a tax receipt. Unless I am mistaken, most entrepreneurs are not socialists, and I am sure the last thing the typical developer would want is to be perceived as a corporate welfare bum.
Diagonal exposure of apparent 2000 BP house at Somenos Creek.
I don’t know too much about the Somenos Creek development in the Cowichan Valley which is discussed in this column in the Times-Colonist:
The North Cowichan story goes back to 1972, when Schmidt was among the developers who bought 100 acres of farmland. About 300 homes eventually arose on what became Timbercrest Estates. Not developed was a six-acre piece where human remains were found in 1992, and where archeological investigations later turned up a feature — a hearth, perhaps, or a house foundation — dating back to the time of Christ.
The Cowichan Tribes think there’s more to be found, that it is important to preserve all six acres, perhaps use it for educational purposes, but Schmidt thinks a dozen houses can be built around the perimeter of the area of proven archeological significance. The natives’ hope now is that government will recognize the importance of the property and buy it, an idea they pitched to cabinet minister Kevin Krueger last week. His reaction? “It wasn’t negative, so I think that’s positive,” says Cowichan Tribes lands-research director Diane Hinkley.
Krueger says there isn’t money to buy such lands outright, but he wants to see what can be done to work things out.
For his part, Schmidt just wants to be done, one way or the other. Either the province or Ottawa buys the land, or he applies for a development permit. “I’m into it too deep to just let the land sit there.”
One of the researchers sent me a copy of the report, and there is a fairly compelling set of features unusual in (a) being inland (b) including an inland shell midden component and (c) including a large subsurface sub-rectangular, sharply defined feature which appears to be the remains of a house dating to ca. 2100 BP. This makes the site of unusually high archaeological significance – not to mention there are numerous human burials (analysed in Doug Brown’s MA thesis) and extensive archaeological deposits of other kinds. The house feature is remarkably similar to a contemporaneous feature I saw being excavated a few years back at Esquimalt Lagoon. We know very little about houses from this period, particularly houses found in inland contexts. What is striking about the newspaper column above is that it reports the developer has managed to put houses onto 94 of 100 acres, and is now champing at the bit to develop, or be compensated for, the last 6 acres. I mean, seriously, George Schmidt of Timbercrest Estates, you have achieved 94% of the development you sought. How about leaving the burial ground alone? You bought the land in the 1970s. Surely you have made your money back many many times over. A donation of this small parcel as a heritage park would be a classy move.
Somenos feature - note sharpness of vertical section indicating probable use of plank retaining.
Posted in Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, First Nations, Shell Middens, Vancouver Island
Tagged Archaeology, Cowichan, Cowichan Valley, CRM, household archaeology, Northwest Coast, Salish Sea, Somenos Creek