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Archaeological impact assessment begins for future Lheidli T’enneh childcare centre

Shovel test pit, Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park.

You might have noticed something unusual if you happened to be taking a stroll through Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park these last few weeks. A small group of people have been digging holes near the park’s entrance — something the general public is forbidden to do, as it is a designated archaeological site under the Heritage Conservation Act.

Fortunately, this team is led by archaeologists. The digging is part of the archaeological survey of the future site of the new Lheidli T’enneh childcare centre, in partnership with The Exploration Place. Elissa Gagnon with Archer CRM is the archaeological project lead and permit holder for the work and a Lheidli T’enneh First Nation member. She has been assisted by representatives of the Lheidli T’enneh as well as Alyssa Leier, The Exploration Place’s curator, who is also a trained archaeologist. Other staff members from The Exploration Place have also volunteered to help with the dig.

First grade into Lheidli Reserve #1 showing the approach of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway to a temporary Fraser River crossing (1913). Photo courtesy The Exploration Place

The Lheidli T’enneh have occupied the territory known as Prince George for at least 9,000 years, moving between different areas with the changing of the seasons. Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park was the original village site, making it a place of great historical and cultural significance. In 1913, after multiple rejected offers to sell the land to the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and a subsequent sale for well under its market value, the remaining members of Lheidli were forced off the site against their will, removed from their homes, and their village was burnt to the ground. The land became the Prince George Golf Course in the 1920s. Later, in 1957, the entire area we now know as Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park, including the cemetery, was bulldozed during construction of stages and outdoor barbecue pits meant to be part of the celebrations of BC’s Centennial year in 1958. This work resulted in significant controversy as witnesses watched cultural materials, headstones, and graves containing human remains be bulldozed into the river. When construction resumed, the remaining burial ground material was pushed into the center of the cemetery, where it was incorporated into a monument. The park expanded in 1959, with a bulldozer again unearthing more human remains and burial items.

Due to this land’s history and the contentious changes made to it by settlers, any construction or ground disturbance in the area must now begin with an archaeological impact assessment. An assessment will determine the extent of cultural materials in that spot and any potential impacts to the site from construction. After the area has been assessed, the findings will determine, in consultation with the Lheidli T’enneh, whether construction can continue and what will be done regarding any materials found.

Lheidli Cemetery with markers and wooden boxes for storing a person’s treasured belongings and protecting the spirit (1910). Photo courtesy The Exploration Place

The initial survey for the proposed site of the childcare centre entails digging over 100 35cm x 35cm shovel test pits in a grid-like fashion across the entire site. Shovel test pits are minimally invasive but can provide valuable information about the archaeological status of the area. Each pit is dug by hand to a depth of 70-90cm, followed by a 2.6m long hand auger to delve even further into the earth. Digging these pits may involve contending with sand, clay, rocks, and tree roots. All materials extracted from the pits are sifted through a mesh screen, and any remaining objects are carefully examined. Anything unusual is noted, photographed, bagged, and labelled for analysis. It is then recorded on a map which will indicate any locations where further examination may be necessary. An experienced archaeologist can probably work much faster, but it took me and one of my coworkers about five hours working together to complete two pits. It is an exhausting and arduous task but fascinating for an amateur like me.

Unsurprisingly, as an English Major, a writer, and a former childcare worker, I had never participated in archaeological work before but was pleased to volunteer some of my time to this critical work. It’s not every day you get to try your hand at archaeology!

Our team is honoured to be part of this very important project that further demonstrates the decades-long friendship between the Lheidli T’enneh and The Exploration Place. The Museum works alongside the Lheidli T’enneh to protect and preserve their cultural assets and to share their long and rich history and traditions from their perspective.

Article in Prince George Citizen, May 9, 1958

We have partnered with the Lheidli on many different projects over the years, resulting in a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two parties in 2017. This MOU formalized the previous handshake relationship and made the Museum the designated repository for Lheidli T’enneh materials, establishing a protocol for access, research, display, preservation, and collection of these objects and stories. All materials continue to remain under the sole ownership of the Nation. The Exploration Place also serves as the repository for all archaeological materials uncovered in the region.

At the beginning of the archaeological work, our team was further honoured to participate in a ground blessing ceremony for the new centre. Elder Darlene McIntosh performed the blessing, witnessed by Chief Dolleen Logan, Lheidli T’enneh Councillors and members, IDL Projects, Archer CRM, and our Exploration Place team.

Nenachalhuya to our friends at the Lheidli T’enneh for inviting us to be part of this exciting project which will provide 75 essential, much-needed, culturally safe childcare spaces for families in Prince George, on the traditional unceded territory of the Lheidli T’enneh. The Lheidli T’enneh childcare centre is slated to open in 2022.

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