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Burial site could affect project

COLIN MCKIM, THE PACKET AND TIMES

If any native people are buried on Orchard Point there are shamans in Chippewas of Rama First Nation who can find the them, says band member Mark Douglas.

"We have witches and dowsers who can detect water and minerals and bones underground."

Buried bodies emit vibrations that those with special perception can sense, Douglas told The Packet & Times.

"They give off signals." At this point no one knows

whether there are any graves on the 1.5-hectare site on Lake Simcoe where a 144-unit condominium complex is being proposed by the Orchard Point Development Corporation

Two archaeological assessments done in the last few years have found more than 1,000 artifacts, including a pointed stone projectile point dating back 7,000 years, pottery shards, grinding stones and other primitive tools.

But to this point there has been no evidence of a burial site.

Douglas said an offer last year to let dowsers from Rama walk the property was turned down by the developer.

"They said, 'Thanks, but no thanks.'"

But property owner Ron Sattler told The Packet that nobody approached him or developer Mike Bowering about witching the site for buried bodies.

"They never talked to me or Mike about it."

In 1889 during construction of a Red Cross Hospital on Orchard Point, workers excavating the foundation discovered a skeleton, believed to be the remains of an aboriginal woman.

Silver ornaments buried with the body suggest the woman was buried after contact with Europeans, possibly earlier that century.

Ron Williamson, an archaeologist who has reviewed the two assessments done on the property, suspects there may be other aboriginal burial sites on the property.

"There is a possibility," he said on Thursday during an Ontario Municipal Board hearing into the project.

Williamson is a witness at the hearing for the City of Orillia, which turned down the project last year, triggering an appeal to the OMB by the development corporation

If the project is ultimately approved, the developer is committed to conducting a Stage 4 archaeological assessment on part of the site that might be impacted by the development.

This involves scraping off a foot of topsoil and examining the underlying layers for signs of disturbance.

Any discovery of human remains would bring the project to a dead stop, said Williamson.

Under the Cemetery Act, police and the coroner would have to be notified and further investigation done to determine the age and number of bodies.

If it turned out to be an aboriginal grave, First Nations would have to be contacted about the desired disposition of the remains.

Although bones are sometimes moved from native burial sites, most often a decision is made not to disturb them, Williamson told the board.

"It has happened in the past where requests are made to shift buildings."

When an ossuary containing the remains of hundreds of native people was found during a road widening in Vaughan, the road was redesigned to avoid what the Hurons called "a community of the dead," said Williamson.

Subdivisions have been drastically redesigned and other projects reconfigured after the discovery of native burial sites, said Williamson.

In the event human remains are found on Orchard Point, a protocol has been established following discussions with the developer's archaeologist, Michael Henry, to consult with the Chippewas of Rama and representatives of the Huron-Wendat in Lorette, Que., descendants of the Huron who occupied this area until the collapse of their nation in the mid-1600s.

Williamson told OMB chair Joe Wong it is premature to be planning development on the site before the Stage 4 assessment has been completed.

The developer's plan is to get approval first, then conduct the assessment in the areas where the three main buildings and other structures are slated to be built.

"Why would we pay a million dollars for an assessment before we have permission to build anything?" developer Mike Bowering told The Packet.

Asked if it would really cost that much, he said no, but pointed out such assessments are costly.

A body could be discovered where a building is planned to go, acknowledged David Bronskill, lawyer for the developers.

"That is a risk."

While native dowsers can be hit and miss, Henry said he would be willing to let witches from Rama pace off the Orchard Point property.

"I've heard of cases where it worked." The hearing continues today at 10 a. m.

in a new location -- the Severn Township council chambers.



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