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Walker Hook is an Important Heritage Site

DfRu002 is the archaeological designation for the prominent shell midden located at Walker Hook on Salt Spring Island. This and other shell middens in the region are accumulations of the material remains of First Nations activity Layers of shell indicating changes in site use such as shellfish processing, hunting, stone and bone tool manufacture, and ceremonial activities. They are composed of layers of dark soil (often representing household occupation) isolated by layers of loose shell (representing the refuse that accumulated when the houses were moved to other locations on the site). Intrusions into these layers are often detectable remains of activities such as the digging of pits for roasting or storage, or the placing of support posts for a house or other structures, or the ceremonial internment of the Dead. Shell middens have special soil chemistry. As shells decompose, they produce an alkaline solution that neutralizes the acidic soils typical of northwest coastal regions, creating favourable conditions for bone and shell preservation. The layers, or strata, build up in this manner over time and the shell, bone, and stone artifacts and features they contain can be dated using radiocarbon and thermoluminescense methods.

DfRu002 at Walker Hook is estimated to be the fifth largest recorded shell midden in the southern Gulf Islands. In the early 1970s, Walker Hook was surveyed by archaeologists and its size estimated Cultural deposits and the remains of house posts at Walker Hookbased on surface exposures of archaeological material, but no subsurface or other detailed investigations were carried out. Although the length of occupation is not known, to local Coast Salish people this is the ancestral village site Syuhe’mun and has been used by them since time immemorial. Archaeological investigations at other sites in the area indicate that the cultural deposits may be as old as 4500 years.

If an archaeological site has never been scientifically investigated and is threatened by development, the Heritage Conservation Act (1996) requires an Archaeological Impact Assessment (AIA) be carried out in order to assess significance and design developments to avoid or mitigate impacts. As such, the Archaeology Branch of the Ministry of Sustainable Resources Management should have required an AIA prior to issuing a permit for Sablefin Hatcheries, Ltd. to construct their waste disposal system. Yet a Site Alteration Permit for the initial construction was Cultural deposits churned up by machinery and trenching issued without an AIA in spring of 2003. The permit stipulated that Sablefin could dig one long trench (315 meters) and drill four wells. Sablefin Hatcheries, Ltd. hired an archaeological consulting firm that monitored the mechanized removal of material from the trench by raking through the deposits after they were dumped on the side of the trench. Eleven burials were encountered during the monitoring. A single one-by-one meter test pit was excavated using trowels.

Granting the initial Site Alteration Permit suggests poor judgement on the part of the Ministry, since the shell midden at Walker Hook was a potentially significant registered - but virtually uninvestigated - archaeological site. December of 2003, residents reported unauthorized development occurring at Walker Hook. On January 13, 2004, a representative from the Ministry’s Archaeology Branch investigated this report and confirmed the presence of six unauthorized wells, not stipulated in the original Site Alteration Permit. Sablefin Hatcheries received no penalty for their actions - and the work continued.

On January 5, 2005, the Archaeology Branch of the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management finally denied Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd’s application for an amendment to the original Site Alteration Permit which would have allowed themPipes linking unauthorized wells to dig more spur trenches connecting some of the unauthorized wells to the main trench. For now, the archaeological site is safe from further trenching and digging. The Ministry’s legal decision did not significantly impact Sablefin’s operation – they simply connected four of the unauthorized wells by running pipes on the surface of the midden. Today more effluent is pumping through the known heritage site and Coast Salish burial ground, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. The pipes that now run on top of the ancient village site reveal the workings of the waste system buried within. Since an AIA was never completed we will never know the possible damage done to Syuhe'mun or what could be lost in the future.

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