The construction site around Craigflower bridge where two sets of human remains were found this week is well-known First Nations archeology site.
Saanich and View Royal were prepared for the possibility of discovering culturally significant material on the land that will soon house a jointly owned replacement bridge, and sought out an archaeological monitor for the land before work even began.
“The area’s middens are known to contain human remains and the monitor will ensure that the terms of the permit are met should human remains be found,” reads a request for proposals from the municipalities issued last month.
On Monday, crews from B.C. Hydro were excavating by hand between the Craigflower elementary property and the sidewalk on Admirals Road to prepare for the installation of temporary power poles, when they encountered human remains, said Jim Hemstock, Saanich’s manager of capital works.
“They had an archaeologist on site monitoring things. They also had a First Nations monitor,” he said. “The lead on this now is First Nations. We consult with the elders and we really follow their direction.”
Grant Keddie, curator of archaeology at the Royal B.C. Museum, said there’s evidence First Nations occupied that site as long as 2,800 years ago.
“It appears that a part of the site was occupied very early on, and then (1,600 years) later a larger portion of the site was used,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t occupied continuously, but it was occupied at different time periods.”
A midden, in archaeological terms, is a site where animal bones and shells are found in heaps, indicating that area was – at some point in history – occupied by humans.
“Practically with all these shell middens, people are buried behind the village or in an abandoned area, so the vast majority of these large middens are expected to have human remains in them,” Keddie said.
Saanich and View Royal are now working with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, ancestors of the people who inhabited the area, on the next steps.
This discovery, Hemstock said, hasn’t changed the bridge project timeline. It actually expedited more thorough testing of the surrounding land.
The possibility remains, he said, of finding more bones.
“Until we know entirely what’s there, it’s hard to predict – that’s why we’re starting this work early,” Hemstock said. “We were prepared for this.”
Construction on the new Craigflower Bridge is expected to begin in April and is slated to last six months.
The 80-year-old, timber-beam span will be replaced by a three-lane steel bridge, double the width of the existing bridge, at an estimated cost of $11.9 million.