(Above: Work being done on the Barrie site in 2011 during the construction of the Allandale Go station.)
APTN National News
A temporary stop work order has been placed on an ancient burial site of the Huron-Wendat people in Barrie, Ont. by the Ontario government halting any construction development, that is except the work planned by the government itself.
The province is allowing GO Transit to continue with plans to expand on the 3.5 hectare site in downtown Barrie, Ont., known as the Allandale station lands, that could include additional track and infrastructure to the existing station that opened in 2012.
Some work is to begin this summer, however the provincially-owned commuter railway has refused to tell APTN exactly what work will be done – just that it is part of the expansion of the layover facility, the first part of the project.
Meanwhile, the city of Barrie is forbidden from breaking ground on any development until a determination can be made if the site is officially a cemetery according to a letter issued on March 24 by Nancy Watkins, the province’s Registrar of Burial Sites.
“These sites must not be disturbed until this declaration has been issued,” said Watkins, which is expected to take months, if not more than a year because she is currently reviewing two archaeological reports done in 2012 and 2013.
The letter was sent to various provincial departments, including Metrolinx, which operates GO Transit.
But a spokesperson with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services confirmed the stop work order doesn’t apply to Metrolinx or any of the work they plan to do.
“The reference to ‘sites’ in the letter refers to the burials sites themselves, which are located on land which is owned by the City of Barrie,” said a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.
The problem is not a single person knows where the burials are because the site has never been properly excavated.
Historians and archaeologists have documented burial pits, known as ossuaries common to the Huron-Wendat, on the site since 1846 when a pit of at least 200-300 bodies was found. Some historical estimates put the total as high as 1,000. Additional ossuaries were found later on the site, and other burials.
Hundreds of human bone fragments were found between 2011-2012 less than 200 meters from where Metrolinx plans to expand.
The government proceeding with work on the site is ignoring calls from Huron-Wendat to stop all construction because they believe the site contains more than what has been found to date.
“What they found already, and what was disturbed, is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Grand Chief Konrad Sioui. “We believe there is a lot more to discover in terms of a cemetery. It has to be respected.”
Sioui met with representatives from Barrie this week, who flew to Wendake, Que. to meet with the Huron-Wendat to address their concerns after APTN first reported in early March that a number of mistakes led to the GO station being built. Both left the meeting agreeing to conduct a thorough and “independent” archaeological survey of the land in the near future.
“There’s going to be an independent investigation by an archaeological firm. (Barrie) supports this completely. Otherwise this is going to become a mess and it won’t help anyone,” said Sioui.
However, Sioui hasn’t heard from any of the provincial ministers involved or Premier Kathleen Wynne, which he called “shameful.”
It’s not clear how an archaeological survey can be completed while there is a stop work order.
Also, much of the site is covered in asphalt after the previous construction done by Barrie and Metrolinx. As well, in 2012 Barrie put in a large sewer through the centre of the property at least 10 feet deep and six feet wide, which wasn’t monitored by an archaeologist.
Sioui said he was “shocked” to learn of all the work that has been done on the site over the years, all without consulting with the Huron-Wendat.
“This is a Huron-Wendat site and we’re going to make sure this site is protected and respected by a Huron-Wendat perspective,” he said.
Metrolinx has been planning on expanding on the site for two years and as part of the process had an archaeological report done. A spokesperson said they have a draft of that report, completed in January, but won’t release it to the public until the fall.
That report was done by Archaeological Services Inc., the largest firm in Ontario that called on the Ontario government to take “urgent action” to protect the site in 2015, after determining the GO station likely wouldn’t have been cleared, as it was, if the government had followed its own regulations.
During the original construction between 2010-2012, Metrolinx had to remove a large amount of natural soil that was contaminated.
Approximately 930 cubic meters of material were removed from the site and taken a place that treats contaminated soil.
Some was also moved to another portion of the site, which is slated for removal. Metrolinx said it will be tested by an archaeologist for human remains.
It will mark the first time Metrolinx has had the soil tested by an archaeologist on soil impacted by their work on the site.
Metrolinx said all expansion work will be done in consultation with an archaeologist and everything outside of the work this summer still needs to be approved by Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. It appears Metrolinx is using previous approvals, as part of the environmental assessment approved in 2005, to conduct the work this summer on the layover facility.