British Columbia

Human skeleton recovered from park in Prince George, B.C.

Archaeologists have discovered a human skeleton in a Prince George park that was once a Lheidli T'enneh First Nation village.

'It's painful for the community,' says chief of the local First Nation that once inhabited the site

Lheidli T’enneh member Josh Seymour stands near the site where a human skeleton was found last week at Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park. He wants any more remains to be excavated and stored in a proper grave. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Just a few hours into the excavation of a civic park in Prince George, B.C., last week, archeologists found the first bone.

Soon, there was an elbow. A hip bone. A skull. Over four days, the team unearthed an entire human skeleton.

"It was very well preserved," said archaeologist Normand Canuel, whose firm holds a permit from the province to excavate the site.

The adult remains were found at Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park, the site of the local First Nation's former village.

In 1913, the village was burned down to make way for a railway and the city. Within the park are three burial grounds.

The province has classified the park as an archeological site. That meant an excavation was required before construction of a pavilion got underway this summer.

Given the site's history, the RCMP have ruled out foul play. The remains are now under the review of a forensic archaeologist.

Skeleton found mostly intact

It's too soon to identify the age or sex of the remains, Canuel said.

The team recovered 99 per cent of the skeleton. A part of the spine was crushed and some bones were fragmented.

Excavators also found a copper button.

Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park was renamed in 2015 to reflect its history to the local First Nation. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Bones were located six to fifteen inches beneath the ground. It required careful digging — using dental picks and small paint brushes — over four days.

"Some of the bones may be out of shape, so you don't want to break them," Canuel said.

Once bones were discovered, the city alerted the RCMP coroner's office and the province's archaeological branch, said a City of Prince George spokesperson.

'Painful for the community'

Lheidli T'enneh Chief Dominic Frederick said it's painful for his community every time new remains are dug up. 

"It brings up memories of our ancestors and of how they were burned out of their homes."

The discovery, however, wasn't a surprise. The village's cemetery was desecrated when the city built the park in the 1950s, he said. 

"When they plowed everything out there, they leveled everything off … They were moving a lot of dirt around from all over the park." 

Click on the audio player to hear more on the park's history as a Lheidli T'enneh village.

A Lheidli T'enneh member is always present during excavations, in accordance with the province's heritage investigation permit.

The park was renamed in 2015 from Fort George Park to Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park to commemorate the site's history, but the city still owns the land. 

Lheidli member Joshua Seymour believes there are more unaccounted burials. He wants them excavated and stored in a proper grave.

"This will be the first step in reconciliation," he said.

Seymour was a teenager when a bone was found in 2005 in the same park. He realized the bone could have belonged to one of his ancestors.

"The thing that drives me crazy is that there are still bones out there," he said, standing in the park Thursday near the excavated site.

"There are still graves out there that people are having picnics on."

With files from Andrew Kurjata