Nova Scotia

Closing archeology lab against UN spirit: SMU prof

A Nova Scotia archeologist says Ottawa's plan to close the Dartmouth lab contradicts the spirit of UN rules.

Artifacts from Grand Pré, L'Anse aux Meadows and Citadel Hill all bound for Ottawa

The Grand Pre dig has yielded thousands of items. (CBC)

A Nova Scotia archeologist says Ottawa's plan to close the Dartmouth lab contradicts the spirit of UN rules.

Jonathan Fowler is a professor at Saint Mary's University. He has directed the archaeological field school at Grand Pré National Historic site since 2001.

He said closing the Parks Canada Archaeology Lab in Dartmouth will be a serious loss for the program and for other public history initiatives across Atlantic Canada.

"Worse, shipping off hundreds of thousands of artifacts to Ottawa will dislocate much of our region's archaeological heritage. The effects of this regressive policy will not only erode our research capacity, but will also be keenly felt by members of local and descendent communities for whom these artifacts hold special meaning," he said.

"The decision to do this without consultation contradicts the spirit, if not certain articles, of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada has endorsed. Surely this decision deserves a rethink."

He said more than 150 SMU students have studied archeology and Acadian history in the program. They've uncovered more than 10,000 items at Grand Pré , including personal items.

Acadians and Mi'kmaq also oppose plans

The lab also holds artifacts from Citadel Hill, Fort Anne and L'Anse aux Meadows.

"We have benefited enormously from the support of Parks Canada's talented staff and have made regular use of its lab facilities and collections. I should add that many of our students have gone on to establish successful careers in archaeology and related fields, both locally and abroad," Fowler said.

"Season to season, we're always going back to the collection and pulling things out, comparing, making new analysis. This is the very activity that is imperiled by this decision."

He said the news came as a shock to workers. "There's a lot of pain in this decision," he said. "The whole system is being pared down. You lose some of the institutional memories."

Fowler said some of the items could be stored at SMU, but he hopes to find a better solution.

"We've not finished at Grande Pré ," he said.

Nova Scotia's Mi'kmaq and Acadian communities have also expressed concern moving historical artifacts.

Thousands of items are currently kept in a brand new, custom-built facility in Dartmouth with climate-controlled labs that hold historical artifacts from Atlantic Canada's national parks and historic sites.

Last month, the federal government announced that to deal with budget cuts, Parks Canada will merge its six labs across the country over the next three years and consolidate the collections in Ottawa.