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ROSSDALE HISTORIC CEMETERIES

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada City follows 100 year policy of destruction of historic cemeteries

This page is sponsored by the Mountain Cree Band
"One of the hallmarks of a civilized society is how we respect the dead."

(Supreme Court Justice Sterling Sanderman 2008)

The Rossdale Historic Cemeteries are a group of old cemeteries covering the Rossdale Flats of Edmonton, Alberta. Archaeological remains show that the area has been in use for some 8,000 years or more. Some claim that Rossdale Flats had been in use steadily since that time. One buried site was found in layers of ash from the Mazama eruption of 6,800 years ago. An archaeological site on the flats, dating to the time of Julius Caesar, has been preserved in considerable detail, giving a glimpse into everyday life at Rossdale at the time. It is unknown when the first persons were buried in the area. The earliest recorded burial was that of James King in 1803, a partner in the North West Company and builder of Fort Augustus (Edmonton). There is also some suggestion that other fur traders had established on the flats years earlier. Since that time possibly as many as 400 others - or more - have been buried here. Researchers for the City of Edmonton have identified some 90 names of those buried. In fact, the names, families, and histories of some 160 of these are known and recorded on the Heritage Consulting databank files. 1867 view of Edmonton showing the 'Christian' cemeteries (center), a painting by Fr. Petitot. The older Indian and Fur Trade cemeteries are to the right and right foreground. An 1871 photograph shows a number of fresh graves at the base of the slope leading to the fort. Among those buried there were prominent fur traders, family of Governors of the Hudson's Bay Company, veterans of the War of 1812 and prominent Cree and Blackfoot Chiefs. Over 20 children who died in the 1870 smallpox empidemic are buried here - as are two families (19 people) who were completely wiped out in that same epidemic. Archaeologicsts have called this "One of the most significant sites in Canada." The City of Edmonton has consistently followed a policy of destruction of these cemeteries and burials in favour of economic development and intends to do so again. It has consistently denied that there are graves and burials in these areas until confronted by the evidence of bodily remains. The City of Edmonton has even denied that the cemeteries shown in Fr. Petitot's painting exist. In 1901 the last recorded burial took place in Rossdale. Since 1900 the City of Edmonton has permitted development on the site. Repeatedly construction has unearthed remains, which were then dumped in landfills. The Edmonton Utilities Power Plant (now know as EPCOR), owned and operated by the City of Edmonton, built a massive water treatment and power plant along the river on the main portion of the old historic cemetery. Dirt - and remains - were dumped in a landfill.
Since 1900 on citizens and newspapers have frequently pointed out that this is out- right objectionable, and that the City of Edmonton should undertake a course of pro- tection of these sites. In 1908 a family came to exhume and take away the remains of an infant child to prevent the grave from being desecrated. The City of Edmonton has consistently ig- nored these voices. 1919 city maps show cemeteries located in the Rossdale Flats. Frequent stories have surfaced of City crews carrying out earthmoving work in the area, and uncovering bones, which they were told to ignore or dump in landfills or backfills. (Official reports of finds were made in 1941, 1964, 1967, 1973, 1981). In 1957 a city employee noted finding skeletal remains (sworn deposition); there is no official report on file. In 1964 the remains of a man and 4 children were un- covered. A resident of Rossdale Apartments recalled seing a grave being unearthed between Telus Field and the Rossdlae Community Hall in the late '60's (sworn deposition); there is no official report on file. In recognition of the historic importance of the site in the 1930's the Government of Canada went so far as to erect a National Historic Monument on the site. It has long since disappeared and the City states they know nothing about it. Because of the continued finding of bones - and ensuing community outrage - the City of Edmonton finally undertook to do some archaeological research - but only in a limited way. In 1967 six skeletons were accidentally uncovered, and archaeologist John Nicks was called in to excavate the site so that construction could continue. The bones were removed to the University of Alberta, where they joined the bones of 12 others that had been collected over the previous five years. Over the next few decades most of these remains were to go missing. Subsequent independent research by Heritage Consulting has been able to tentatively identify some of these people. Over the next decade at least 10 more skeletons were found but nothing more was done. In 1977 the City again brought in an archaeologist to look at some particular finds. The archaeologist called the site "a rare and significant historical find of national interest," and stated that "Because of this rarity, the unmarked graveyard must be treated as a major historic site and the possible presence of Edmonton House and Fort Augustus in the power plant properties must be approached in a cautious manner...Every effort must be made to conserve such a site." The report was promptly ignored. In 1981 more remains were found and an archaeologist again called in. This archaeolgist also pointed out the importance of the site and was extremely critical of the way in which the site was handled and the failure to follow proper and adequate investigation and protection of the site. For this the report was CLASSIFIED SECRET and the archaeologist was barred from working in Alberta. Due to increasing community indigna- tion the site was marked. In 1992 EPCOR commissioned a Ground- Penetrating Radar study to determine if there was significant indication of remains in the EPCORE area. The report went "missing". And so it goes. Nor has the Alberta Heritage Sites Management Board/ Archaeological Survey of Alberta been in any hurry to champion protection of the site - as might be obvious by their response to the archaeological report above. In fact, in Alberta, historic cemeteries and graves are not protected. Rather, the Heritage Sites Management Board approves their destruction. Rod Vickers, Acting Head of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta stated "we have not decided what to do with these remains." Provincial archaeologist Heinz Pyszczyk acknowleged that there may be more unknown burials in the area, but claimed that "There is no living connection with that cemetery" that, in fact, that there is no connection between the bodies interred at Rossdale to any living persons when, in fact, we can show family descendants for over 150 of the known burials in the area. Pyszczyk also came out with another classic statement: "There are no aboriginal burials in Alberta." for a people who have lived here for 10,000 years. With this as an example, it is not surprising the the City of Edmonton and EPCOR maintained that there are no bodies or hardly any bodies found on the site. "There had been two or three bodies found" To their annoyance, more and more remains continued to be found. In 1999 the City of Edmonton established an Aboriginal Affairs office, with which it could 'consult' on issues of importance to aboriginals. It was staffed by staff or no background in aboriginal issus or cultural affairs. As employees of the city, of course, it is not an independent agency. It is there mainly to find ways of facilitating City policies and to be able to say that there was Aboriginal consultation and input. That same year the Paspaschase Band notified the City that at least 31 of their ancestral band members were buried at Rossdale. In 2000 bones were again found at Rossdale (in May and October). That year EPCOR proposed an expansion of their facilitieson these Rossdale Burials. Initially, the Energy Utilities Board approved the expansion plans (as they normally do on aboriginal cultural heritage sites), but after protests by stakeholders Minister Gene Zwodesky halted the expansion for good. The expansion was stopped only protect the historic buildings, not because of the graves. But now, at least, EPCOR was held accountable and unable to dig in the area without an Archaeological permit. In 2004 a local watchdog group began to monitor the developments on the site and to keep in constant communication with the City - with only limited results. That same year the Mountain Cree wrote a letter to the City of Edmonton voicing their objections. There was no response from the City. However, there was a call from a representative of one of the Consutants asking Who The Hell were they and what right did they have to interfere, and threatening legal action. When advised that the Mountain Cree represents some 2000 people who have ancestral kin buried at the site the consultant hung up and nothing further was heard. An offer was made to the City of Edmonton for an investment of $1.5 million dollars towards establishing an Interpretive Center. The City did not even bother to reply to the offer. In 2005 the City of Edmonton finally conceeded that an archaeological study should be done of the Rossdale area - but restricted the study to 9 specific locations. Furthermore, only the remains of bones were to be counted as evidence of burials. Testing and examination for organic remains (Putricine) was not done. For anyone familiar with forensic remains, Putricien is a distinctive organic remain formed by disintigration of a body. Depending on the ground conditions, bones are also often decomposed. Instead, they leave behind a white, chalky residue where the bones were or in a layer roughly in the shape of a body. Observers at the excavations noted such remains but, even though pointed out to the archaeologists - employees of the city - such remains were intentionally ignored. A privately sponsored project was carried out by a dowser - who has been commonly employed by government juresdictions because of his proven accuracy - to try to locate other graves in the area. His assessment was that there were many many more graves throughout the area. Archaeologists, on the other hand, went in with post- hole augers to randomly test exposed areas in Rossdale. Finding no bones (the odds being astronomically high), and ignoring organic residue, they proclaimed that there are no futher burials to be found. At the instigation of the Government of Canada, about 1 acre of the site was declared a National Historic Site. Remains from past Rossdale exhumations that could be found were re-interred in the new Historic Site. The City of Edmonton was most prominent in taking credit for the creation of this memorial. Shortly after this a Development plan came along - supported by the City of Edmonton - to build a new 60,000 seat arena on the Rossdale Site. This would have effectively distrubed most of the area. Another proposal was for development of large box-stores on the site. These plans were quickly whisked out of sight by the City when it found that community consultation sessions showed that the local community was completely opposed to such developments. An appeal was made to the Jewish community to support a request for equal protection for all cemeteries. The Jewish community organizations rejected the idea. The Mayor of Edmonton is Jewish. However, the Jewish com- munity quickly took umbrage and demanded action when their cemetery was vandalized. In October of 2008 the City came out with the West Rossdale Design Plan, a summary of the results of the community input, detailing what the community interests were and, incorporating as far as possible without alienating the citizens, City development interests. Essentially, it was an 'Mom and Apple Pie' statement that indicated that priorities were for the protection of the burials and historic nature of the area, having the area develop as a people-friendly open-space park area, with no further disturbance of the ground. And, of course, with the possible option of development in the area. To the local community and concerned citizens it seemed that their interests in preserving the history and the cemeteries was now actually enshrined in the City policy. Little did they realize. Actually, it was nothing but a public relations ploy. Even as the 'Community Consultations' were going on, the City of Edmonton was deep into a planning process that would virtually destroy the remains of the cemeteries. In 2009 the City of Edmonton suddenly made public a plan for major rennovations and development of virtually the entire area as part of the 2017 World's Fair proposal. Included would be major streetwork, high-density housing development, retail development and recreational facilities. And, no doubt, a new Arena. This planning, of course, had been in the works for years already - all through the time that the City claimed to have such great concern for the Rossdale area. The same year, 2009, the City also lobbyed to have the Olympic Torch come through the City. To facilitate they laid out a Torch Route for the Olympic Organizing Committee (OOC). The route would run directly over the hundreds of burials in Ross- dale. When the route was announced in January of 2010 members of the aboriginal community and the Alberta Heritage Protection Society voiced their objections. The City response? "Gee, we didn't know there were burials and a cemetery there." Apparently after 100 years of community planning and of community objections, the City of Edmonton still does not know (or wants to ignore) that there are hundreds of graves in Rossdale. For their part the OOC was quick to take action, and immediately issued an appology, stating that had they known, they would not have approved the route. Unfortunately, it had come to their planning committee only 2 days before the torch run was to pass through - logistically it was now impossible to co-ordinate a change of routes. However, they quickly adopted a suggestion that as a gesture of respect, the Torch carrier stop and observe a moment of silece. Indeed, they went one step farther. On arrival, the Torch departed from the set route (much to everyone's amazement), to make small detour to the Rossdale Cemetery Memorial, where it observed not only a moment of silence, but made a complete circuit around the memorial before returning to the scheduled route. Thank you OOC. The gesture brings you honour. Interestingly, the Olympic Organizing Committee can take a moment to show respect for those who have gone before. The City of Edmonton and Mayor Mandel, can not. And for this history of destruction Mayor Stephen Mandel received an international award for his concern about protection of the heritage of Edmonton. Being Jewish, you would think he would understand the pain of having the graves of our people desecrated, but with Alberta governments making money at all costs trumps all. And now (May 2010) the City has unveiled plans to build a new 105 St. Bridge - right across the main part of the cemetery. This will include installing pilings and supports, and digging a new roadbed across the site. This would be followed by a new Light Rail Transit bridge and rail line. In November of 2010 the Heritage Departmenf of the Government of Canada - who knew of the Rossdale burials - announced that it would not be willing to finance the costs involved, citing issues of costs and cost-benefit and security, which thereby did away with the immediate threat to the burials. However, in January of 2011 the City announced that it had subsequently decided that the site was being considered for development into an Indy Auto-racing Track. When asked in 2011 for the position of the City of Edmonton regarding protection of historic and aboriginal graves the City Legal department replied 'We don't want to. No law says we have to. We will not.' (to paraphrase their legal jargon). Around the end of January 2011 it was announced that EPCOR, the City-owned utility company, would demolish it's existing heritage building at Rossdale. In the process there would be considrable soil disturbance. This is the location where the largest concentration of burials has been found, including a historic European cemetery. In the meantime, there were plans afoot to build a new bridge or upgrade and realign existing bridges in the Rossdale area - all of which would involve consider- able ground distrubances in known burial areas. Furthermore, a well-placed city source leaked the information that it was planned to tear down the existing cemetery memorial (see above), disinter the bodies buried there, and relocated them. This, apparently, with the blessing of several hired aboriginal city employees, tasked with advising the city on aboriginal positions and concerns, Leona Carter and D. Ward. Presumably, these are the people referred to when the city states that they have consulted with the aboriginal community. This is contrary to the previously stated positions of the affected first nations groups who have a particular historic, familial and legal interest in that site, including: Asini Wachi Nehiyawak Band Edmonton Stragglers Band Enoch First Nation Paspaschew Band Saddle Lake First Nations and numerous individual aboriginal historians and cultural leaders. In August of 2011 the City of Edmonton called for public input regarding proposed re-zoning in the Rossdale area. The proposed re-zoning would remove protected public lands and parklands, where burials are currently protected from destruction, and re-zone them for 'Discretionary Development'. Letters of Objection were submitted by several aboriginal parties and groups; none of these received a response or even confirmation of having been recieved. They were ignored, and in late August the City of Edmonton passed the re- zoning. On September 1 the City of Edmonton convened an Information Session to 'consult' with aboriginal groups and parties about future development of the EPCOR site. Aboriginal parties who had previously expressed concerns were not invited. The Edmonton Stragglers, Mountain Cree and Papasche's Band invited themselves. At the meeting the City presented some ideas of what they would like to see done with the EPCOR site. Both the Mountain Cree and Papasche Bands, who have known persons interred at Rossdale, spoke out against the destruction of the burials. The Mountain Cree proposed that there be no further development at the EPCOR site and in Rossdale in general until there is a real protocol in place on how these burials and accidental finds of remains is in place. The proposal was accepted unanimously (excepting by representatives of the City of Edmonton). In October the City of Edmonton tore down the EPCOR buildings, which included massive ground disturbance of the cemetery site. The aboriginal community was not advised nor informed about what disturbances there were to burials. And for this Mayor Mandel received a Heritage Award for his championing of heritage preservation? For who's heritage? His own? In 2013 the City was finally told it HAD TO consult with the appropriate aboriginal communities. To that end they allowed 1 person from select communities (chosen by the City) to visit the archaeological work for a maximum of 3 days. Now that's consultation! Several communities who had been active for years in trying to have the city act responsibly - the Edmonton Stragglers Band and the Mountain Cree Band - were not invited. Let the City or the Premier know what you think of all this.
"Every human being should have a name and be known by that name." re: Sidney Goodwin, the "Unknown Child" from the Titanic, for who's identity considerable resources were spent, finalized by DNA testing.
To help protect this and other sites like it, go to Save Our Sacred Sites

A Short History of Edmonton's treatment of historic burials 111 St. Burial
CREE BURIAL PRACTICES - History and Ethos; Report prepared for the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission Copy available from Heritage Consulting $5.00