Archaeology and the Turcot project – Is MTQ admitting wrongdoing?
By: John Symon – mtltimes.ca
While attending recent Turcot information meetings, The Times has been listening to traffic concerns but also been asking questions about the Ministry of Transport’s (MTQ) archaeological survey and the possible presence of an Iroquois village near Lachine’s St Pierre sector. After weeks of denials, the
MTQ seems to finally be admitting that its studies—which suggest no such village—might be flawed.
The Iroquois village of Hochelaga—as described by Jacques Cartier in 1535—was likely in the area where the MTQ is bulldozing to make way for the Montreal West Interchange of the Turcot project. Times reader Douglas Jack—an ethno-cartographer with connections to the Mohawk First Nation in Kahnawake–first brought this to our attention. This reporter has since accompanied Jack to two MTQ public information meetings to raise awareness of the issue. To date, the MTQ has not been receptive.
MTQ spokespeople told The Times on Oct. 6 that the archaeological survey done in 2008 examined the potential for both historical (European) and prehistoric (Native) sites, but that the St. Pierre sector was not retained as archaeological area of interest.
We then spoke to prehistoric archaeology expert André Costopoulos from McGill University who said
that such surveys are of “low integrity” unless Natives are involved. At a subsequent Turcot meeting on Oct. 8, The Times asked the MTQ for the names of any Natives involved with the survey.
MTQ spokesperson Sandra Sultana was unable to name any Natives involved, but insisted the survey was valid and promised to send The Times the names at a later date. She then made no effort to take our coordinates. When The Times emailed MTQ communications councillor Caroline Larose for those names, she replied that this “no longer relates to media relations” and that she was transferring the matter to Cynthia Martin in another department. She did not provide Martin’s coordinates nor did we ever heard back from Martin.
On Oct. 20, The Times asked the same question at a Turcot information meeting in the Southwest. This time MTQ officials admitted that no Natives were involved with the survey, essentially confirming that the survey was flawed. But there was no discussion of starting a proper survey in the St Pierre sector.
The Times was also copied on a letter to Transport Minister Robert Poeti, signed by 53 archaeologists,
deploring the destruction of the Tannery Village by the MTQ in September. This letter makes mention of a confidentiality agreement that archaeologists in the MTQ’s employ must sign. The Times asked the MTQ panel if this agreement is legal given that the archaeologists, who are paid with taxpayers’ money, cannot share their findings with taxpayers. The panel said all employees and contractors must sign a similar document.
Legal advice received by The Times is that such agreements might be legal, but probably not ethical. All this casts further doubt on the MTQ’s credibility in finding or preserving archaeological sites. The situation seems particularly dubious with Native archaeological sites; The Times has learned that
the new MUHC hospital was built without a prehistoric archaeological survey done in that sector. This suggests a pattern by the Quebec government of not looking for Native archaeological sites.
Ironically, Montreal is gearing up in 2017 for massive celebrations of the 375th anniversary of
its founding by Europeans. Meanwhile, we are bulldozing potential archaeological sites of the people who occupied this land for perhaps 8,000 years before Europeans settled here in 1642.