APTN National News
The Huron-Wendat Nation is demanding the Ontario government call an urgent investigation into how one of their sacred burial sites in Barrie, Ont. was desecrated following an investigation by APTN National News this week uncovered how the province not only allowed it to happen but were the ones that did it.
Grand Chief Konrad Sioui said the investigation needs to be independent as his ancestors have been dug up, disturbed and “entirely desecrated, likely with the knowledge of certain municipal and government authorities” on what’s known as the Allandale Station lands, a nine-acre site in downtown Barrie.
“We are outraged to see that this situation seems to have gone on for years, all without our knowledge,” said Sioui in a press release issued Friday. “We deeply lament this immense desecration of our ancestors. The Allandale Station site and the burial grounds that are found there are sacred and must be protected. Huron-Wendat human remains must never be disturbed, under any circumstances.”
The Huron-Wendat people were known to inhabit a large portion of southern Ontario including Barrie. The area is commonly called Huronia. After being forced out in the 1600s they later resettle in Quebec, and parts of the United States.
APTN reported Wednesday that several laws and regulations that are supposed to protect archaeological and burial sites were ignored by the Ontario government when it started construction to extend GO Transit, the provincially-owned commuter rail line, into the Allandale site in 2010.
The government had knowledge of the documented burials, known as ossuaries, for years and that all but one of the many archaeological reports done on the land had warned the province not to dig without looking for the burials.
The one that didn’t was commissioned by GO Transit in 2004.
Philip Woodley was hired to do what is known as a Stage 1 archaeological assessment of five locations in Barrie where Go Transit was looking to build a new station connecting Barrie to downtown Toronto.
A Stage 1 is known as a literature review, meaning archaeologists generally look over any historical documents that can help them understand what was once on a property.
Woodley said he never looked in the history books because when he visited the site, known as the Allandale Station lands, he believed it was too disturbed to contain any archaeological potential after operating for years as a rail yard.
What he didn’t know, and which had been previously documented, is when the railway yard was first built back in 1853 a large amount of fill dirt was used to level the ground capping the natural soil beneath.
This could have protected a large ossuary found in 1846 with 200-300 bodies. Two smaller ossuaries were found later that century. It’s not known what happened to them or their exact location on the site, but many believe they were in the area where GO put their tracks and could still be there. Woodley said he should have told GO Transit a more in-depth assessment of the site was required, such as doing test pits to look for evidence of the ossuaries.
“It certainly looked disturbed to me at the time, but apparently I was wrong,” said Woodley. “I went out there. I looked around. I saw a train station and a huge gravel pad that was at the same level as the surrounding land.”
Just a few years earlier, the former AFBY Archaeological and Heritage Consultants found a Huron-Wendat village in the natural soil at Allandale with thousands of pieces of ceramics and tools.
AFBY didn’t find the burials and recommended to the province that any development on the site, outside of his testing area, needed further assessment, as he only did a small portion of the site.
The province agreed in a 2001 letter to AFBY.
Woodley never got those AFBY reports, and there was three of them. He said he asked for them, but the province didn’t provide any.
“When we did our background research none of (AFBY’s) work came up as part of existing sites in the area,” he recalled. “I’m not trying to justify my conclusions. I’m just saying … there was no registered sites and I just assumed it was disturbed.”
The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport signed off on his report three years later in 2007, around the same time GO Transit acquired a portion of the Allandale site from Barrie.
The ministry made no revisions to Woodley’s report.
In 2010, construction started on the site, including a station with a deep underground pedestrian pass.
Adding to the problem is the province knew of AFBY’s reports and had its own knowledge of the area, but still cleared GO to do the work using Woodley’s report.
The province wrote to Barrie officials in 1996 when the city was acquiring the site back from the Canadian National Railway, and told them the lands had archaeological potential and there were rules to follow if they redeveloped the land.
That letter mentioned a Barrie Examiner newspaper article from 1926 that recounted an interview with a Major Joseph Rogers, the high constable for Simcoe County.
“There are few people who stand on the station platform at Allandale and know they are standing right over one of the greatest Indian burial places known in Ontario,” Rogers is quoted as saying.
Archaeologists, who have reviewed the situation, said the province should never have cleared the site for development based on what was known.
“Further systemic gaps are indicated by the fact that in 2007 the Ministry of Culture issued a concurrence letter for (Woodley’s) report – essentially clearing the candidate GO station site on the Allandale Station lands of any further archaeological concern – in spite of the outstanding recommendations for further work on the property to which they had previously agreed in 2001,” wrote Robert MacDonald, the assistant managing partner at Archaeological Services Inc. in Toronto, in his January 2015 summary report issued to MTCS calling for urgent action.
No action has happened, and the province has refused to directly answer any questions brought to them by APTN, other then to say they’re improving the system and reviewing reports.
Another archaeologist said even if the province didn’t share AFBY’s report, Woodley’s work shouldn’t have been accepted.
“Right away when Phil Woodley’s report came in (the ministry) should have said ‘try again,’” said Mike Henry of AMICK Consultants. “Even if the ministry didn’t recognize they’re at fault for not giving Phil the AFBY report they should have still said to Phil ‘this is unsatisfactory because we know there is a burial ground there. We told the city there is a burial ground there. We know (because) it’s documented. It’s publicly available information … re-write the report. Re-submit it. Make appropriate recommendations.’”
Henry was hired by the City of Barrie in late 2009 to do a Stage 1 of the site.
When he requested all previous archaeological reports done the site he got AFBY’s and not Woodley’s.
Still, he recommended any lands not assessed by AFBY be thoroughly tested for burials.
His recommendations could have been shared with GO and the work stopped, but Barrie never gave the report to Metrolinx, the Ontario government agency that operates GO Transit.
“It is Barrie’s understanding that Metrolinx conducted its own archaeological investigations for the work it was completing for the Allandale GO Train Station. Barrie does not have a record of those reports. Barrie does not believe that Metrolinx discovered any archaeological artifacts during the course of its works,” said the city in a statement to APTN.
Metrolinx has said in documents they don’t believe its contractors found anything, but have also refused to answer questions.
But Henry’s report was also filed with the ministry and it’s not believed they did anything to stop the construction of the GO station.
“It is a documented cemetery. (While) it may not be officially registered as a cemetery, it is a documented burial ground,” said Henry of the nine-acre site. “It is a cemetery, so you have to be darn sure that area is contained.”
While the ossuaries have never been found since their discovery, Henry did find a large amount of fragmented human remains on the site between 2011-2012, including piece of a human jaw with teeth still attached and shovel-shaped incisors – a known characteristic of Indigenous people pre-contact.
He found them about 100 metres from where the GO station is today.
Henry believes remains are yet to be found on the property and further testing is needed of all the land there.
Robert MacDonald of ASI said the gaps in regulations need to be closed.
“(We’re) very concerned that gaps in provincially mandated policies and protocols, such as those which led to the construction of the Allandale Go Station without a Stage 2 archaeological assessment, may result in further impacts to the archaeological deposits and/or human remains on the Allandale Station Lands,” he said in his 2015 report.
Woodley said if the province had other reports and recommendations they should have went with them.
“You always go with the most recent report,” he said. “I feel bad about my report (but) somebody else should have shared the other reports.”
In June 2015, the Huron-Wendat Nation’s band council adopted a resolution to establish a clear position regarding the protection and preservation of its ancestral heritage.
“We will continue to fight for the protection of our history and against the destruction of our heritage and ancestors both in Quebec and in Ontario. These are our ancestors and we will take all the necessary measures to restore their dignity so that they may rest in peace,” said Sioui, Friday. “We have been faced with many situations where the remains of our ancestors have been unearthed, examined, studied, unilaterally appropriated or simply disposed of like garbage. As in all such cases, this situation is unacceptable to us.”