Internationally Significant Skandatut Site Saved
New Cultural Heritage Landscape Park to Celebrate Nature and First Nations History
June 6, 2012
Vaughan, ON – Vaughan City Council voted unanimously last night to accept a deal to save Skandatut, an internationally significant cultural heritage site in the Greenbelt, on the historic Hu
mber River in Vaughan, Ontario.
The 6 acre village site will be transferred to public ownership, and will be buffered from new development by a 2.5 acre park. The site is surrounded by a river valley and conservation land on three sides.
At the council debate, Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua saluted its importance to both residents and members of the Huron-Wendat Nation: “Nature is extremely important to know in all that it teaches us. We cherish Skandatut just as much as you do.
“To all involved on behalf of the city I wish to express my warmest and sincerest gratitude. This moment defines the best of what humanity has to offer—compassion and understanding.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo, political Chief to all of Canada’s 634 Nations, wrote to Premier McGuinty in 2010 calling it “rare” and “internationally significant.”
The site is located on a steep-sided promontory overlooking the Humber River and valley. At its time of occupation in the sixteenth century, it was a large and heavily fortified Huron-Wendat village. Located on the Carrying Place Trail, which was one of Ontario’s oldest and most important lines of trade, diplomacy and communication in the Great Lakes Region. Given its location and size, it was likely the “capital” of southern Ontario.
Despite its iconic history, the site’s fate wasn’t always secure. Less than two years ago, a private landowner was excavating to make way for development. The provincial government had to step in to temporarily preserve the archaeological site.
“This is a great moment for world heritage, to finally have protected this village site that straddled the world of life on the Great Lakes before and after the arrival of Europeans,” said Luc Laine, a member of the Huron-Wendat Nation. “When we make the re-burial of our ancestors across the river, Skandatut will be linked again permanently with the ossuary to which it belonged.”
Laine thanked the Mayor, Councillor Michael Di Biase, Councillor Deb Schulte and other members of Council for their wisdom and efforts.
When thousands of Huron-Wendat and other First Nations remains—which were illegally excavated—return to the site, the resulting park area will be one of the largest protected and sacred cultural heritage landscapes in Canada.
“Adding Skandatut to the list of the Greenbelt’s protected landscapes is a major accomplishment that will be celebrated long after we’re gone,” said Dr. Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence. He noted that adding the site to the Greenbelt has been a Ontario Greenbelt Alliance priority since 2007.
“Preserving Skandatut is a wonderful achievement that highlights the very best about Ontario’s commitment to truly sustainable development and respect for First Nations,” said David Donnelly, who began acting for the Huron-Wendat on Skandatut back in 2004.
“For me, there is also a deep sense of relief that we’ve lived up to our reputation as a just society and that we didn’t lose another part of our past. Ontario heritage is more than just bricks and mortar,” Donnelly added.