BY GARY MAY
When Mike Bowering chose a spot near The Narrows in Orillia for a $70-million waterfront condominium development, he figured all the building activity there in recent decades would have eliminated any archeological interest in the site. After all, the Orchard Point Harbour development area had already been significantly disturbed, having housed a hospital in the 19th century, then a resort and a marina.
Bowering was wrong. His plans were put on hold as provincial regulations required archeologists to be called in to literally sift through the soil in search of significant artifacts and evidence of early human activity. Then, when small portions of an aboriginal skeleton were found, First Nations representatives were consulted.
“The Rama Chippewa (or Ojibwa) were great to deal with,” the Toronto-based developer tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “They came in and performed a ceremony. They blessed the spirits and thanked us for our co-operation, and then were on their way.”
While a smattering of artifacts was collected, archeological studies showed there were no significant sites on 90 per cent of the developer’s property. That allowed work to proceed on the first phase of the 140-suite project. Bowering’s Mutual Gain Corporation awaits word on the last portion.
Ontario’s archeological requirements — criticized by some as inadequate — proved a costly exercise for Bowering. But it could have been a lot more difficult — and expensive — if there had been a significant archeological find, or if the site was discovered to be a burial ground or permanent First Nations village.
Digs' findings can put development on hold
While many, including First Nations representatives, say Ontario needs to take a stronger stand in protecting its archeological past, existing rules make it clear that if there is reason to believe a site has been one of significant historical human activity, archeologists must be allowed to assess whether it warrants closer examination and protection.
If human remains are found, developers and contractors are told in no uncertain terms to down tools until the matter is resolved. There’s no legal way to get around it: Anyone who discovers human remains must immediately report it to police or the coroner, and work must cease immediately.
If anyone fails to comply, they could be subject to fines of $1 million and up to a year behind bars.
Those regulations came about after 1976, when a significant aboriginal burial site was found in Grimsby, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Work on a new subdivision was forced to a halt when First Nations people and archeologists converged on the site.
Archeologists uncovered the remains of 373 individual members of the Neutral Indians, which were excavated and re-interred under First Nations supervision. Today, a park and a plaque mark the spot.
It was a watershed event. Before that time, it is estimated that thousands of significant archeological sites were lost because of the lack of provincial regulations governing their treatment. In Orillia, for instance, a recent newspaper story pointed to evidence that much of the city’s west end is built upon native burial grounds and settlements.
Current fans of waterfront living in Ontario might be surprised to learn that people have been flocking to the shores of the province’s lakes and rivers for 10,000 years — ever since the last ice age — and it’s only in the past three decades that officials have shown much interest in protecting the artifacts from those societies.
Orillia is a hotbed of ancient native settlement. Not far from Bowering’s Orchard Point Harbour, for example, sits the Atherley Narrows, which connect Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe. Early aboriginal fishermen found the narrows the ideal location to drive wooden stakes, or weirs, into the channel and weave brush and vegetation among them to create an underwater “fence.” These fences guided fish into an area where they could be easily caught.
These ancient weirs were preserved by layers of silt and are archeologically valuable because they are among the few of their kind known in Canada. They were used until about a century ago.
Another building project, this one along the shores of a cove on Lake Ontario in the City of Quinte West, found itself the focus of archeological attention a couple of years ago. Now, the developers are incorporating the area’s history into their plans.
'... I was thrilled by the history of the place'
The site is on a narrow neck of land that separates Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte, a waterfront location that has drawn people for thousands of years. It’s called the Carrying Place, a spot where native people, and then early European settlers, hauled freight overland to afford themselves of the bay’s protection.
It’s also a location that caught the eye of Cobourg businessman Lloyd Jones and Belleville homebuilder Jamie Brauer. And from their imagination sprang plans for 300 homes in a development they call Prince Edward Estates at Young Cove.
“I never had any concerns that the archeological findings would be detrimental to our plans,” Jones tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “I didn’t believe there would be a native claim issue. Frankly, I was thrilled by the history of the place. I find it intriguing to think that people have been there for so long. They’ve found arrowheads and I like to think about someone firing one at a deer.”
Neither Jones nor Bowering found their locations’ pasts a detriment to sales. In fact they say many people who have ordered residences in their developments were intrigued to learn the history of their new communities. (Phase 1 of Orchard Point is under construction, while Young Cove will build a model home in 2011. Read more about Orillia and Quinte West in our community profiles section
Jones plans to make his development’s history a feature of the community. Tucked in among the homes will be a parade square and a replica of the original blockhouse, called Fort Kente, which sat on the site. The only holdup, he says, is that the city discovered none of its municipal regulations cover the building of a fort.
Jones also wants to have an interpretive centre at which he’d like to display some of the artifacts picked up there over the years.
After the archeologists came in to give the place a thorough check, Jones and Brauer were required to set aside two areas as off-limits for development. These spots can be used by archeologists-in-training for archeological digs.
Bowering, too, says he plans to memorialize the history of Orchard Point. “We haven’t decided how we’re going to do it, but it will be done in a respectful way.”
But not all builders and developers have taken that tack. Native people believe the rules need to be tougher to prevent the loss of significant architectural treasures.
Archeological sites in Ontario run the gamut from aboriginal villages and early European settlements or pioneer farms, to burial grounds and battlefields. Essentially, a place of archeological significance can be any place that contains an artifact or any physical evidence of past human activity that’s of heritage value or interest — something that helps us understand the history of a place, its people or an event.
Developers currently are subject to a hodgepodge of rules and levels of enforcement that vary from one municipality to another. In Orillia, Ian Sugden, director of planning and development for the city, says the city’s new Official Plan provides the strongest language yet on archeological assessments, a response, he says, to the province encouraging a tougher stand.
Standardized rules to include native consultation
When will provincewide standardization of the rules occur? And when will they become tougher? Sarah Harris, issues management co-ordinator for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture, says: “Aboriginal engagement will be a key part of the new standards and guidelines for consultant archeologists.” She said they are being finalized and will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2011.
“The ministry is updating the standards and guidelines to bring more consistency and predictability to Ontario’s archeological practice,” she said, adding that the ministry consulted aboriginal communities, archeologists and other stakeholders in drawing up the new rules.
That will come none too soon for the First Nations people. They want it written in law that development proponents must consult and obtain the consent of First Nations people, whenever a project affects their interests.
Currently, there are no provincial regulations that require such consultation when native sites are found on private property. Ontario only requires that if there is reason to suspect archeological sites may be present on a developer’s property, they must hire a consultant archeologist to carry out an assessment before any work is done.
Under provincial rules, an assessment is a multi-step process and must be conducted by a certified professional archeologist. The first step is to review existing literature or history that exists about the site in question. In the case of both the Quinte West and Orillia sites, they were known as places of significant human activity. At Quinte West, for instance, people since at least the 1890s have been collecting artifacts from the First Nations and European settlement eras, as well as evidence of activity during the War of 1812.
Once the literature is studied, further work includes digging up the top layer of soil. Additionally, detailed searches are conducted as evidence warrants.
Recently, Luc Laine, Ontario spokesman for the Huron-Wendake First Nation, used a housing project in Vaughan, north of Toronto, to drive home the point that he wants Ontario to require developers to consult First Nations people whenever a significant site is dug up.
“We are not against development,” said Laine, “but there should be a duty to consult so we can work together.” He said native people only learned of work at the Vaughan site by accident, even though it is near an important Huron village. That, he said, isn’t good enough. The requirement of consultation must be written into law.
While Ontario’s regulations may be lacking in the minds of many, we’ve come a long way from the days prior to the Grimsby discovery, when archeological assessments were almost unheard of.
About 1,800 archeological assessments are conducted in Ontario annually, but prior to the current regulations coming in to force in 1980, countless sites were lost to development.
The Ipperwash Commission of Inquiry estimated that 8,000 native village and burial sites have been destroyed provincewide. And the remains of untold numbers of Ontario’s early people, dug from their graves by academics and amateurs alike, are stored at various locations.
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — October 2010