Sunbury Neighbourhood Association

the PROVINCE - October 1, 2010

Ancient history could be paved for South Fraser Perimeter Road

9,000-year-old First Nations site threatened

Province Fraser Valley columnist Brian Lewis

Province Fraser Valley columnist Brian Lewis

Photograph by: File photo, The Province

There's a vacant piece of property on the Fraser River's southern bank, slightly upstream from the Alex Fraser Bridge, that looks remarkably ordinary.

However, this changes abruptly once R.G. Matson, a professor emeritus in archeology from the University of B.C., explains what's beneath your feet.

What you are actually standing on is abundant evidence of human history that stretches back before the days of Stonehenge in the U. K or the pyramids in Egypt.

This is the Glenrose Cannery archeological site in North Delta, where since 1969 scientists have dug deep into its earth and discovered artifacts and other remains that confirm that ancient First Nations peoples were using this location as a temporary summer food-gathering place as long as 9,000 years ago.

It's certainly one of B.C.'s oldest heritage sites and it's also well known internationally in archeological circles, but as important and priceless as it is, that's still not going to stop the B.C. government from building the $1.2-billion South Fraser Perimeter Road over it.

And that's why a small gathering of concerned citizens and community groups assembled earlier this week to hear Matson explain the site's importance and why it should be protected.

"When I started work on this site in 1973, it was the first piece of West Coast archeology that I did, but ultimately, it may be the most important," he tells us.

Previous archeological excavations show evidence of human habitation such as stone and bone spear points, knives and other tools, as well as animal remains including elk, deer, harbour seal, shellfish and salmon.

Matson says the oldest traces have been found more than eight metres below the current surface and represent the Old Cordilleran period, which is between 5,000 and 9,000 years old.

However, from an artifact point of view, the site's most productive layers were found between about five and six metres deep, which represents the St. Mungo Period from between 3,500 and 5,000 years ago.

"You have to realize that, in this site's earliest days, the Lower Mainland and Fraser River delta looked very different," Matson says. "Richmond didn't exist, because that lower part of the delta hadn't been formed yet. Point Roberts was an island and this site was, in fact, at the Fraser River's mouth."

The Glenrose site is unique because its deepest parts are much older than similar archeological sites farther downstream on the Fraser, Matson says.

"Some of the questions that future archeologists will have can only be answered by having this site preserved," he warns.

Richelle Giberson, a nearby neighbour who is organizing a campaign to save the site, is particularly frustrated by a lack of information from the Gateway Project group, the B.C. government agency building the four-lane, 40-kilometre SFPR that will connect Deltaport with Highway 1 in Surrey.

"Nobody at Gateway has any answers, other than to tell me there will be an impact on it," Giberson says. "Why are we building a freeway though this site?"

A Ministry of Transportation spokesperson said Thursday that steps are being taken to minimize impacts on the archeological site, but declined to go into details.

"I think we're going to have to watch this site like a hawk," Matson adds.


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