Toronto – A Stop Work Order was posted at the Skandatut First Nation’s site this morning, marking a turning point in the efforts to save this internationally significant First Nations’ cultural heritage site. The Order is for 180 days and allows the City of Vaughan and Region of York the opportunity to designate and protect the site under the Ontario Heritage Act.
A second Ministry of Culture site inspection on Monday confirmed earlier reports the archaeological excavation was not being conducted to Ministry standards. An investigation of whether human remains were removed illegally from the dig site has also been requested.
“The Greenbelt’s protected landscapes include areas of high archaeological, historical and cultural heritage interest,” said Dr. Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.
“Protecting Skandatut is everyone’s responsibility, but Vaughan now must finally act to protect one of its most important heritage sites. Heritage in Ontario includes more than just bricks and mortar, this is an internationally significant sacred site.”
The site is located in Block 59 of Ontario’s Greenbelt. As far back as 2007, the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance listed Skandatut as a Greenbelt “Top Ten Hot-Spot” needing protection.   
This inspection also revealed that mechanical scraping of the site may have exceeded the development limit, and may have gone into protected conservation lands.
Skandatut is a late sixteenth-century site, representing the latest in a series of major villages located along the Humber River north of Woodbridge in the City of Vaughan. The Humber River is a designated Heritage River due to its historic function as part of the Carrying Place Trail between Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay made famous by European travellers such as Etienne Brule and Governor Simcoe, but used by Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years beforehand.
The site is spectacularly located on a high, steep-sided promontory overlooking the Humber valley and the former location of an ossuary (mass gravesite), which was regrettably excavated in the 1970s without the knowledge of the Huron-Wendat. Plans are underway to repatriate those remains held by the Ontario Heritage Trust at Skandatut, to be protected as the Greenbelt’s first Cultural Heritage Protected Landscape.
Vaughan’s Official Plan now calls for protecting significant cultural heritage sites like Skandatut.
“The Minister has helped push past the antiquated idea that landscapes are compromised solely of wetlands and forests that need to be protected, so it is a relief to know that Aboriginal sites are now on their way to be treating with the respect and dignity they deserve,” said David Donnelly, counsel to Environmental Defence and the Huron-Wendat Nation.
According to experts who have viewed the site, 50% – 70% of the site remains undisturbed. The Huron-Wendat Nation and others have called for the complete protection of the site.
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For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
David Donnelly, Donnelly Law, (416) 722-0220
Erin Charter, Environmental Defence (416) 323-9521 ext. 258, cell (647) 280-9521