Ontario NDP calling for investigation into how province desecrated Huron-Wendat burial site

(Above: Premier Kathleen Wynne and Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman in 2015 announcing the province will add more trips from Barrie to Toronto.)

Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
There needs to be an investigation into whether laws were broken by the Ontario government that allowed a rare documented Huron-Wendat burial site to be bulldozed in the city of Barrie says the NDP’s Aboriginal Affairs critic France Gelinas.

Gelinas said there is overwhelming evidence Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government broke their own rules around archeological and burial sites when GO Transit was approved to build a new station in Barrie, Ont. beginning in 2010.

“There are people who broke the law. There should be consequences,” Gelinas told APTN National News.

Gelinas was responding to a recent APTN investigation into how the provincially-owned commuter transit company was cleared to bulldoze through a 3.5 hectare site in Barrie, known as the Allandale Station lands, that has long known to have documented ossuaries, pits of hundreds of bodies, and one of the oldest Huron-Wendat villages found to date.

APTN uncovered a number of mistakes that led to the construction. Since 2000, there have been seven archeological reports done on the site that said not to develop without looking for the burials.

The one that didn’t was commissioned by GO Transit in 2004 by New Directions Archaeology, when owner Philip Woodley wrongly determined the site held no archaeological importance. GO, which is operated by Metrolinx, used that report to develop the land after the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport (MTCS) signed off.

By all accounts, according to many experts, MTCS should never have cleared GO to dig without looking for the burials.

That’s because MTCS knew of the documented burials and agreed with a previous report by a different archaeological firm in 2001 that the site needed further assessment, including where GO transit put its new station.

Another archaeological report was commissioned in late 2009 and also said the area needed to be stripped and searched for burials if it was developed. But MTCS didn’t halt construction of the GO station when there was time to do so.

“It is well documented. It is by people who are experts in their field,” said Gelinas. “(The Liberals) hope this will go away. That is not acceptable to me.”

There are laws protecting archaeological sites under the Ontario Heritage Act enforced by MTCS – destroying one without proper clearance comes with fines of up to $1 million. There’s another set of fines and possible jail sentence of two years for purposely destroying a burial ground under the province’s Cemeteries Act.

But the province has refused to directly answer any questions asked by APTN.

That includes Premier Kathleen Wynne who was minister of transportation at the time, as well as MTCS Minister Michael Coteau.

Woodley told APTN he made a mistake clearing the site in 2004.

He said MTCS never told him of previous reports and he never checked historical documents that show a large ossuary was found in 1846 with between 200-300 bodies and two smaller ossuaries later that century.

Woodley thought the ground was too disturbed after years of operating as a rail yard from about 1850s to 1990s.

However, when the rail yard was built the entire site was capped with dirt fill protecting the natural soil below.

So much so, that in 2001 the former AFBY Archaeological and Heritage Consultants found what they determined to be rare a Huron-Wendat village, including thousands of pieces of ceramics and tools, as only a handful that old had known to exist.

Despite not finding the ossuaries, AFBY was convinced the site needed further assessment if it was ever developed, particularly the areas where he didn’t test, as much of the site was left untouched.

And in 2011, fragmented human bone was found in a crawl space of an old building on the site. Over the next year more human bone would be found. In total, over 900 pieces, including part of a human jaw with teeth still attached, were found.

AMICK Consultants found the remains less than 200 metres from where GO was digging on the site.

They claim to have found no human remains during construction but the site was never examined by an archaeologist, who believe if the ossuaries are still on site they would be in area of the GO tracks.

“It is a documented cemetery. (While) it may not be officially registered as a cemetery, it is a documented burial ground,” AMICK owner Mike Henry told APTN. “It is a cemetery, so you have to be darn sure that area is contained.”

The government has said it is reviewing AMICK’s reports on the human remains. They have had them since July 2014, but the day APTN’s first story broke on March 9, Henry received two letters from MTCS asking for revisions. The requested revisions appear to be clerical.

The government hasn’t said if it will review the other reports or what went wrong.

“It’s so disrespectful,” said Gelinas. “How can we do this? (Coteau) has a responsibility to hold his own laws and he’s not doing it. That’s so wrong.”

The NDP say they will push the issue when Members of Provincial Parliament return to Queen’s Park next week.

[email protected]

– with APTN National News files.

Contribute Button