Ganges Harbour, known by the Coast Salish First Nations as "Shiya'hwt", is located at the southwest end of Salt Spring Island, in the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia. At the head of the harbour lies the modern village of Ganges which is built upon the remains of an extensive Coast Salish village known as the "Shiya'hwt village site".
Immediately adjacent to this ancient village site lies Grace Islet, a small and beautiful rocky island, which is accessible by foot during low tides. An archaeological survey on behalf of the property owner in 2007 identified two locations of observed ancient human remains and at least 15 pre-contact burial cairns on the islet. Thus, like many small islets in the Southern Gulf Islands of B.C., Grace Islet is a recorded First Nation Burial islet (DfRu-009) in both the memories of local Coast Salish people and in the Provincial Registry of Heritage Sites.
Members of neighbouring Coast Salish First Nations in lower British Columbia have long known Grace Islet as a sacred burial ground for their ancestors. In addition to this commonly held knowledge archaeological surveys conducted as early as 1971 have demonstrated the significant nature and extent of cultural remains on Grace Islet. As a consequence, the entire island is protected by the Heritage Conservation Act (HCA). In spite of this “protection” Grace islet was zoned residential and sold to a private individual, who then applied for an alteration permit to allow him to build a house.
In one of many letters to the Archaeological Branch the Penelakut wrote "Our First Nation has clearly stated to the Ministry and to the Archaeology Branch our fundamental opposition to the proposed housing development at Grace Islet in our previous correspondence. The Penelakut Tribe has written in length to express our concerns for upholding our customary laws, beliefs, and aboriginal rights to protect our ancestral dead from further disturbance by private development at this burial site. As repeated by our Penelakut Tribe Elders and staff during our meeting with the Archaeology Branch, we consider this whole islet to be an ancient and historical First Nation cemetery. As a cemetery - a resting place to bury family members and others whom have passed - we believe this sacred place must be publicly respected and preserved, not allowed by your Ministry to be developed and desecrated for further residential development."
On September 17, 2013 the Archaeology Branch notified the Penelakut, Cowichan, Halalt, and Tsartlip First Nations that the decision had been made to grant the amendment to allow for construction to proceed. In this letter the Archaeology Branch also stated that: "This decision results from balancing the Hul'qumi'num and Tsartlip expressed aboriginal right to care for their ancestors with the fee simple property rights held by the permit applicant." “Refusing authorization to build the residence allows the site to be preserved in its current condition. This option aligns with the First Nations’ position and is the best outcome from a site conservation perspective. However this option also denies the rights of the property owner to most uses of the land. As the Province does not have a program of funds to purchase the property this option is the most unbalanced of the three.”
Efforts have been made to put together the funding to purchase and protect the islet and compensate the owner for his expenses to date but the owner has refused.
Chronology of Events
Correspondence and Documents
Architectual Description and Renderings