The remains of half a dozen people have now been found at a downtown construction site believed to be a forgotten Roman Catholic cemetery.
Coffin wood and metal coffin handles have been recovered in the area of 138 James St., the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services says.
The Ministry, which oversees the cemetery and crematorium regulation unit, said Monday the number of individuals found at the former municipal parking lot to date is six.
Spokesman Stephen Puddister said in an email there is evidence of individual burials placed approximately one metre apart at a depth of four to five feet. That evidence, along with fact the burial site is close to the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria on Church St., suggests the human remains are from a Euro-Canadian burial site and not an aboriginal burial ground as originally believed.
An archeological investigation is continuing at the site, which is being developed by Penn Terra for a 210-bed student residence.
Bones were discovered on April 16 by workers digging soil at the edge of the property, located between James and Lyman St. near Raymond St.
Workers stopped digging, police were called and the coroner brought in. Because of the age of the bones, it was initially believed they may be of aboriginal ancestry and the Mississaguas of the New Credit First Nation were notified and sent a representative to visit the site.
The scene was turned over to Ontario’s Registrar of Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act and Penn Terra.
As required under the act, Penn Terra arranged for an archeological investigation to be carried out by a professionally licenced archaeologist.
John Kingston, treasurer of Penn Terra, said the remains found are on the church property and were discovered when workers were cutting into the edge of the site. They are being accessed by the archeologist from the Penn Terra property.
Penn Terra can get onto its development site but it’s limited, so they’ve moved resources to another project on Lake St. “We have the ability to work but we’re giving the archeologist as much breathing space as possible,” Kingston said.
The development site at Lake St. will now be accelerated with the extra resources.
Kingston said there is no timeline for how long the archeologist will be investigating.
The ministry said the city, property owner and the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharines are now considering how best to deal with the site and the human remains. They are governed by the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act of 2002.
Margaret Young, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said all possible interested parties are researching and trying to find proper records of the graves. She said they want to make sure there aren’t any more remains on the site and a grid search is being undertaken.
“We’ll hope for a quick resolution as much as possible. They’re doing a thorough job about what they have found and what they might find,” she said.
The diocese met with the company, archeologist and city last week.
Director of planning and building services Jim Riddell said the city has no role and it’s a private matter between Penn Terra and the Catholic church. But he said the city has been keeping up to date on what’s happening.
Steve Fulton, president of the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Niagara chapter, has said the cathedral had a cemetery on the property in 1831 until 1856 when Victoria Lawn Cemetery was established. The church at one time took up a swath of land between Church and Raymond St.
What happened to the bodies that were buried before Victoria Lawn Cemetery opened is now the question.
“I’m shocked but not surprised those remains were found,” Fulton said. “I’m very curious to know how large the burial site is. What is going to be done with the other possible remains?”
Fulton said his concern is that a plan is developed to re-intern the human remains and see if there are others.
“Six is a significant number,” said Fulton said. “How much of the cemetery has been forgotten?”
Thanks to MAC