Remains were found…at the excavation of a parking lot on the corner of James St. and Raymond St. in St. Catharines.
An archeologist is assessing a downtown St. Catharines construction site this week after workers digging up soil discovered old human remains.
The bones, of unknown origin and ethnicity, have been cordoned off on the site at 138 James St. across from the courthouse.
A second site on River St. in Welland, where truckloads of soil from the St. Catharines site have been deposited, has also been secured.
“We don’t know how ancient they are,” said John Kingston, treasurer of Penn Terra, which is building a 210-bed student residence on the former municipal parking lot.
He said on Thursday, workers were digging when bones from the adjoining property fell onto the Penn Terra site. They shut down the site and police were contacted.
Niagara Regional Police Const. Phil Gavin said police initially secured the site as a possible crime scene. An investigation with the coroner’s office, however, determined the bones were archeological in nature, not criminal.
Regional coroner Dr. Jack Stanborough said the remains consisted of ancient bones. Their age hasn’t been determined, but he said they were likely more than 200 years old. He suspected they were probably from a First Nation community, which would not be out of keeping with other First Nation burials discovered.
Stanborough said finding archeological human remains isn’t all that unusual in Niagara.
“It’s not uncommon. Certainly in Niagara we get them every couple of months,” he said, explaining it usually happens when a new site is excavated. “It’s a combination of First Nations ancestry with modern development.”
Police released the scene and turned it over to the property owner and Ontario’s Registrar of Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, Michael D’Mello.
D’Mello said by e-mail Monday there is no determination yet of the cultural affinity of the remains and it’s still not known if they are of aboriginal ancestry.
“The origin of the site is unknown as well, since there is no evidence of intentional burials or an ossuary or a pit burial,” he wrote.
The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation — the closest First Nation community to the property — were notified of the discovery on Thursday by the Registrar.
A representative visited Friday, but on Monday D’Mello said there is no evidence to indicate the remains are of aboriginal ancestry.
He said the landowner has arranged for an investigation to be carried out by a professionally licenced archeologist, as required under the Funeral Burial and Cremation Services Act.
Once that archeologist makes a report, the registrar will make a declaration about the origin of the site and the process of removing the remains will begin.
Kingston, of Penn Terra, said the archeologist was on site Thursday and Friday, but rain Monday delayed further investigation.
“He will try to assess it to see what exactly these are and take it one step at a time,” Kingston said. “We’re obviously not doing anything in that area on site.”
Kingston said the ministry and archeologist indicated they could continue construction on the property away from the section with the remains.
It’s not known how long the remains will be there.
“Right now, it’s not great news for us because it does restrict us from that area, but as long as we can have access to other areas on the property we can continue working there,” Kingston said.
“If this is a short period of time required to deal with the matter, then I don’t think it will have any impact on our timing. If this goes on for a period of time, then obviously it would have an impact.
“Unfortunately, I just don’t know.”
Steve Fulton, president of the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Niagara chapter, said the major question now is whether there are other remains on the site.
He was researching the property along with other members through the weekend.
Fulton said there was a cemetery on the property from 1831 until 1856, when Victoria Lawn Cemetery was established. The cemetery was part of the Cathedral of St. Catherine, which is still standing on Church St. and at one time took up a deep swath of land between Church and Raymond Sts.
Where the Algoma Central building sits on the corner of Church and James Sts. was at one time a convent.
“We need to make sure the people who were laid to rest are laid to rest,” Fulton said.
Thanks to MAC