Links to our past can deter projects

Archaeological sites abound around Oak Bay

Of Victoria’s waterfront properties, those in Oak Bay and Uplands are among the most sought-after in the real estate market these days.  And, once acquired, a buyer often wants to invest in building or landscape projects that involve developing or renovating the property.

To dig or not to dig – that is the question that weighs heavily on waterfront property owners all over the southern tip of the island, including the municipality of Oak Bay.

Over the years we have discovered, or rather uncovered, artefacts and other vestiges that show this land is archaeologically sensitive. We know, for example, that Willows Beach and the Esplanade was once home to a native village, and there have been cairns found in the Uplands. These are our links to the province’s past, so before any renovation or property development gets under way, the first step for the owner is to find out if their property contains an archaeological site.

The province’s Archaeology Branch advises property owners to start by going to their municipality or regional district, who can access provincial records of known archaeological site locations within their jurisdiction.

Roy Thomassen, Director of Building and Planning at Oak Bay’s municipal office, confirmed that they have a map of archaeological sites, but that they are not allowed to share it with the public.

“We can look at it, and say to an owner, your property is close to an archaeological site, now go and contact the (Archaeology) Branch,” said Thomassen.

Then, if the owner finds out that their property may contain an archaeological site, they must contact the provincial government’s Archaeology Branch, and hire a qualified archaeologist who will confirm the site location and assess the risks that may be incurred by carrying out the proposed project.

Thomassen says that although there was an opportunity for the municipality to enter into an agreement with the province and make the map available online, they prefer to take a “hands-off” approach, redirecting owners to the government and its services, which are ultimately responsible for all heritage actions. As well, the discovery of any artefact on a piece of property leads to calling in other services

“We discovered a skull about a month ago, along the esplanade, while the services were digging,” he said. ”And when that happens, the police have to be called in.”

Another example occurred in 1996, when the skeletal remains of a Native female were found during some excavation work at a private home in the Uplands. At that time, the Oak Bay News reported that the archeological discovery lead to the coroner, the local police, members of the Songhees First Nation, Oak Bay’s building department and the province’s archaeology branch gathering to assess the next course of action.

Archaeological digs can be costly, and add unforeseen costs to your home improvement project.

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