Jack James will be the first to admit that some people think he’s crazy.
Still, the 83-year-old insists the land acquired by View Royal for its new fire hall is the site of a native graveyard—a claim that the Town has now spent nearly $18,000 in archeological assessments to investigate.
“These are serious and significant allegations,” said View Royal fire Chief Paul Hurst. “I’ve received nearly 100 pages of complaints from this one individual.”
Hurst said the town has done everything it can to ensure there are no archeological artifacts on the site.
Shortly after the Town took ownership of the 2.4 acre property at 329 to 337 Island Highway last summer, Hurst requested archeological records for the site — standard procedure for any development.
The B.C. Archeology Branch reported the site was clear of any known remains but noted one small section of the land had a high potential for unrecorded archeological material.
“They told us to just watch for deposits and contact the branch if anything turned up over the course of development,” Hurst said.
Based on that information, the Town contracted a company to fence the perimeter of the property in September.
That’s when James, whose property is separated from the fire hall land by a back laneway, says he saw the fencing company dig holes straight through artifacts and bone fragments. He has half a dozen carved stones he says he picked out of the holes.
He’d planned to photograph more evidence when the contractors left for the night, but they worked late to cement in the fence posts.
Hurst said it’s not uncommon for a contractor to work a long day to get the job done. But James has other suspicions.
“I think they knew they’d done something bad, digging into those graves, and worked overtime to cover it up,” James said.
Since then, James has been writing complaints to the Town. Archaeologists and local First Nations have been through his property and have seen his alleged artifacts.
Ron Sam, who holds the archaeology portfolio on the Songhees Nation band council, says James’ carved stones aren’t from that area, and he doesn’t expect the archaeologists will turn up anything of significance.
“I think this is being used by residents as a last stab to stop the (fire hall) development,” Sam said. “Our history doesn’t have anything about burials at that site.”
James and several residents in his area have been vocally opposed to having a fire hall built near their homes.
James was a volunteer fire fighter in View Royal for 22 years, and put in an additional nine years as a fire trustee. He knows View Royal needs a new fire station, but maintains that the location the Town chose won’t work.
“You need flat land to build a fire hall,” James said, noting the slope of the property.
The presence of native burials on the property would add to his case against putting a fire hall on the land, but it’s unlikely to halt the development. The Town already put up $2.5 million to buy the property, and an architect is working on building designs that will go to public consultation early next year.
James’s complaints have added unanticipated costs to the project. To respond to the allegations, the Town has hired a archeology firm to do an archeological impact assessment on the property.
“This is over and above the due diligence any other land developer would be expected to take to ensure the land is clear of archeological remains,” Hurst said. “There’s no cover up or conspiracy going on.”
The result of the assessment is expected by mid-December. But James already has his mind made up.
“They spent two hours here doing their assessment,” he said. “I’ve lived here 60 years. I know the history better than anyone.”