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."
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
Asini Wachi Nehiyawak Band
Edmonton Stragglers Band
Enoch First Nation
Saddle Lake First Nations
and numerous individual aboriginal historians and
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-
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
"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
(Supreme Court Justice Sterling Sanderman 2008)
The Rossdale Historic Cemeteries
are a group of old cemeteries
covering the Rossdale Flats of
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
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.
Fur Trade cemeteries are to the right and right
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
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
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.
CREE BURIAL PRACTICES - History and Ethos; Report prepared
for the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission
Copy available from Heritage Consulting $5.00