(Above: Premier Kathleen Wynne and Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman in 2015 announcing the province will add more trips from Barrie to Toronto.)
APTN National News
The Ontario NDP continued to pressure the government of Premier Kathleen Wynne Wednesday on why it allowed a provincially-owned transit agency to build a commuter train station on a rare Huron-Wendat burial ground in Barrie, Ont.
The NDP is also calling for an official probe into what happened.
“The government broke their own law,” said NDP MPP and Aboriginal Affairs critic France Gelinas during Question Period at Queen’s Park Wednesday. “There should be consequences to that. Why was this government so negligent in their actions and when will they hold the people to account?
“And, more importantly, when will they fix this wrong?”
In 2010, GO Transit, a public transportation agency of the Ontario government, began bulldozing through a 3.5-hectare site that would become its new Allandale train station in Barrie, Ont., about an hour north of Toronto.
The station, opened in 2012, sits on a well-documented burial ground — and archaeologists had warned that the Ontario government shouldn’t break ground until someone checked for burials.
APTN learned that seven archeological reports done on the site since 2000 cautioned against development without first investigating what was in the ground below.
The only one that didn’t was commissioned by GO Transit in 2004.
That report was done by New Directions Archaeology; owner Philip Woodley has recently admitted he wrongly determined the site held no archaeological importance.
But that report isn’t one of reports the Wynne government says it’s currently reviewing in addressing what went wrong.
Since APTN first approached the Wynne government in February, spokespeople have repeated that they’re reviewing two reports by AMICK Consultants.
Those reports were completed in 2012 and 2013 — after the GO station was already completed – and have nothing to do with the construction of the GO station.
They involve fragmented human bone found in a crawl space of an old building on the site in 2011.
Over the next year more human bones were found.
In total, the earth revealed over 900 bone fragments, including part of a human jaw with teeth still attached and shovel-shaped incisors, a known trait of Indigenous people.
AMICK Consultants found the remains less than 200 metres from where GO was digging on the site.
“(The government is) being deceptive. They delayed review of the reports, not us. They should have been cleared years ago,” said Mike Henry, owner of AMICK. “They can drag this out forever.”
Henry explained the revisions are “minor” and basically clerical.
The government has had the AMICK reports for several years and they sat, untouched, until APTN started asking questions about what happened on the Allandale site.
“We will not be accepting the final archaeological report(s) until we are convinced that all of the content meets the highest archaeological standards and they’ve all been complied with in Ontario,” said David Orazietti, Minister of Government and Consumer Services during Question Period at Queen’s Park.
APTN has been trying to find out why Metrolinx, which operates GO Transit, was cleared to bulldoze through the site in Barrie and build the station with a deep underground pedestrian walkway beginning in 2010.
APTN wanted to know why the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport (MTCS) signed off on the New Directions report despite knowing and agreeing with recommendations from previous reports in 2001 that determined the site needed further assessment.
But there is other reports the government knows of too, that do connect to the GO development.
One was completed in summer 2010 and concluded the area needed to be stripped and searched for burials before any development could take place.
And MTCS had written to the City of Barrie way back in 1996, after Barrie acquired the burial ground lands from CN Rail. The ministry warned Barrie that the site contained items of archaeological importance and the city was obliged to follow strict rules before development.
All of these are not being reviewed by the government and should be said Gelanis.
“But instead of taking these reports into account, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport looked at the one report that said, ‘Go ahead and dig.’ They ignored all of the others,” said Gelinas.
“They ignored their own work. They ignored their own letter that they wrote to the city of Barrie saying that this site needs a further archaeological work because of the artifacts on-site.”
To make matters worse, Woodley, who said he feels terrible about his mistake, told APTN the ministry never alerted him to previous reports done on the site as it was supposed to.
Woodley said he never seen historical documents that show a large ossuary was found in 1846 with between 200-300 bodies. Two smaller ossuaries were discovered later that century. There are other documented burials on the site, as well.
Woodley believed the ground was simply 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 that protected the natural soil below.
It proved effective.
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. Only a handful that old had been known to exist.
AFBY didn’t find the ossuaries, but staff were convinced the site needed further assessment if it was ever to be developed, particularly the areas where they didn’t test.
AFBY left much of the site untouched, including what is now the Allandale GO station.
Metrolinx claims no human remains were found during construction, but several archaeologists believe if Huron-Wendat ossuaries still exist, then they would likely be in the area of the GO tracks.
There are laws protecting archaeological sites under the Ontario Heritage Act enforced by the culture ministry – 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.
“We have strict laws in Ontario to protect these sites. They carry severe penalties: millions of dollars and jail terms,” Gelinas told Wynne in the legislature Wednesday. “What is the Premier going to do to hold to account the people who have done wrong and allowed the desecration of this historical First Nations site?”
Culture Minister Michael Coteau fielded the question.
“When we find human remains or any heritage-significant pieces through the archaeological process, it automatically goes to the third phase. We’re currently in that phase right now, and it’s a little bit too early to say what the next step is,” Coteau said. “But we will make sure that this file is handled in a very respectful way.”
He didn’t say why no one in the government had touched the file for over two years.
Barrie’s Mayor Jeff Lehman reached out to the Huron-Wendat soon after APTN first broke the story March 9. Lehman is meeting with Grand Chief Konrad Sioui April 5 in Wendake, Que, where many Huron-Wendat live after being forced out of the Simcoe Country in the mid-1600s. APTN also reported Barrie has tried three times to develop condos on the site, which is contaminated, since 2008.
Sioui has also called for an investigation.