Some of B.C.’s best-known archeological sites and others not yet discovered may be threatened once the province begins building its Gateway road and bridge projects.
Experts in the field fear the rapid pace of development over the next few years will come at the expense of irreplaceable cultural sites.
“There are so few sites left,” said Jean Bussey, an archaeologist with Langley-based Points West Heritage Consulting.
“I don’t think it’s acceptable. I don’t they can be mitigated. I think they should be avoided.”
B.C. transportation minister Kevin Falcon has pledged great care will be taken with the sites to avoid damage or mitigate impacts.
That potentially includes adjusting routes to dodge some sensitive areas or capping a site with protective material.
But Bussey and other specialists believe significant losses will be unavoidable.
An estimated 30 per cent of the South Fraser Perimeter Road route crosses land assessed as having high archeological potential.
The 40-kilometre truck route would run along the Fraser through the Glenrose Cannery and St. Mungo sites near the south end of the Alex Fraser Bridge in North Delta.
“The Glenrose Cannery site is a highly significant site,” said Dave Hall, a Port Moody-based archeologist.
“The problem with the perimeter road is it’s going to go right through it,” he said, predicting the damage will be severe.
Glenrose is the oldest known shell midden site on B.C.’s south coast, with material dated to 8,000 years ago. Aboriginal use of the site spans six millennia.
St. Mungo, dated to as early as 4,500 years ago, is believed to be a fishing village that was home to powerful families.
Both are human burial sites and the transportation ministry’s own archeological assessment has warned human remains may be disturbed through the removal of thousands of cubic metres of material.
“Site preparation work and the excavation of footings for piers associated with the elevated roadway have a high potential to unearth both intact and disturbed cultural deposits, including human remains,” it says.
Another area, known as the Nottingham Farm site between the Fraser and Burns Bog, has also been flagged by the ministry as an area that could be damaged.
The Kwikwetlem First Nation has demanded a more intensive assessment of the perimeter road route in Surrey between the Pattullo Bridge and 104 Avenue to look for unknown sites.
The band opposes any damage to existing sites along the corridor.
“Very few sites remain following post-contact development, and what remains of these known archeological sites is not replaceable,” the band said in its statement to the environmental review.
Archeologists say the reality is much waterfront land in the Lower Mainland is riddled with potential sites.
Some, like the recently discovered Katzie village site at the north end of the Golden Ears Bridge, are particularly significant because they contain wet areas that have kept organic material nearly perfectly preserved.
Such areas are rapidly vanishing, says SFU archeology professor Dana Lepofsky, because Fraser River wetlands have been steadily drained by settlement and development.
“I don’t think there are many more left,” she said. “We need to treat each one as if it’s going to be the last one.
“These sites hold the key to the past. We’re throwing away the key.”
In another article on June 20th, the Katzie nation is mourning the loss of a tremendous heritage site - potentially proving that agriculture had established itself almost three thousand six hundred years ago when a form of potatoes was grown in wet fields by the river. The Katzie first nations agreed to a compensation deal with the Ministry of Transportation but now regret the deal when they see the richness of the archaeological finds that will now be bull-dozed.