British Columbia

Musqueam protesters demand protection of ancient village site

Members of the Musqueam First Nation marched through southwest Vancouver streets Thursday morning to demand protection of an ancient village and burial site.

Members of the Musqueam First Nation marched through southwest Vancouver streets Thursday morning to demand protection of an ancient village and burial site.

The band and their supporters say a condo development is threatening an aboriginal village and burial ground considered one of the most important archeological sites in Canada.

Work is underway at the site of the 3,000-year-old Marpole Midden, on the 1300-block of S.W. Marine Drive, to build a five-storey commercial and residential complex along the banks of the Fraser River.

Marpole Midden facts:

Marpole Midden was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1933 because it is the site of one of the largest pre-contact middens on the Pacific coast of Canada.

This massive midden site contains remains of a Coast Salish winter village dating from the Marpole phase culture, as well as shellfish remains and various artifacts from early inhabitants of the site found in an average depth of 1.5 metres and a maximum depth of 4.6 metres, dating from 1500 to 2900 years ago.

The excavation of this extensive midden led by Charles Hill Tout, in 1892, has stimulated archaeological study of other such prehistoric refuse heaps on the Pacific slope.

By 1955, urban expansion had significantly altered the landscape of Marpole Midden, covering the site in homes, infrastructure and other typical urban features.

Source: Canada's Historic Places

But the Musqueam band says human remains have already been unearthed and urgent action is needed to protect the site.

Band members have reportedly offered up a different piece of land in exchange for protecting this piece in dispute, but the province won't sign off on the deal.

The Musqueam First Nation does not own the land in question, but the Marpole Midden was designated as a Canadian Heritage Site in 1933. While the federal government has recognized the importance of the historical site, it's up to the provincial government to protect it.

In late January, intact human remains were discovered during the course of archaeological work being undertaken by the developer. Six lots are at the centre of the controversy and work was stopped on the one lot where the remains were found.

Development work is supposed to continue on the other five with an archaeologist in daily contact with Musqueam authorities, but last month protesters blocked bulldozers from entering the site.

While there have been talks to protect the site, the province has already signed off on the development permits and the City of Vancouver is not permitted to withhold a building permit for archaeological issues, according to city manager Penny Ballem.

The site's owner says the land has been in his family for more than 50 years and the soil has already been disturbed by the existing structures on the site.