c̓əsnaʔəm (commonly known as the Eburne Site, Marpole Midden or Great Fraser Midden), located in the heart of Musqueam’s Traditional and unceded Territory, is an ancient village and burial site of the Musqueam people, dating back at least 4,000 years.
In the late 1700s and 1800s, small pox and other diseases arrived on the Northwest Coast and affected our people at c̓əsnaʔəm. Musqueam Elder James Point recalled seeing remains of house posts and “lots of bones” as a boy in the 1880s. He also recounted how the people of c̓əsnaʔəm (and other Musqueam villages) were called by q̓iyəplenəxʷ, a highly respected and renowned warrior and leader, to defend against northern invaders.
In 1884, during the “Garypie Farm Road” upgrading, an extensive shell midden containing ancestral remains and cultural objects was uncovered. H.H Gowan and James Johnson removed ancestral remains and gave them to the Natural History Museum of New Westminster. They were later destroyed in the fire of 1898.
In the 1890s, Harlan I. Smith of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City mined the site for human skeletal remains and cultural objects for the museum’s collections. He noted that “seventy-five [human] skeletons were found in the shell heaps at [Marpole] during about a month’s work.”
In the 1920/30s, local ethnographer Charles Hill-Tout and the local history association (forerunner of the Museum of Vancouver) undertook extensive excavations and was amazed at the antiquity and extent of the site. They retained self-taught “archaeologist” Herman Leisk to remove cultural deposits including human skeletal remains for the museum’s collections. According to his own report, he encountered over 700 human burials. Some were discarded in the trash because of lack of space at the museum. Skeletal remains were also sent to the Royal College of Surgeons in London England (where they were later destroyed in the Blitz) and to other museums in North America. In 1933 the Historical Sites and Monuments Board of Canada declared the site as a Canadian National Historic Site. A cairn was placed in a nearby park, marking “the site of one of the largest prehistoric middens on the Pacific Coast of Canada. It originally covered an area of about 4½ acres, with an average depth of 5 feet and a maximum depth of 15 feet.”
Recent Site Issues
In January, 2011 Musqueam discovered a 108 unit residential condo development was being planned for the site without prior consultation with the Band. In May, 2011 Musqueam met and corresponded with the Provincial Archaeology Branch to persuade them to protect the site and not to issue permits for archaeological “investigation” and “alteration” of the site under the Heritage Conservation Act. Despite Musqueam’s stance, permits were issued under the Heritage Conservation Act in December 2011. In 2012 Musqueam wrote to the provincial and federal governments, to the City of Vancouver, and to the developer in attempts to resolve the matter through agreement and an appeal made to the Premier but no meaningful response was received from the province.
In January 2012, an intact burial was found and in March its immanent removal prompted Band members to protest at the site to halt construction and protect their ancestors. This led to a four week suspension of work on the site (except by agreement, such as the demolition of buildings on the lots proposed for development). Talks during the four week period led to no agreement as the Province failed to participate in any meaningful way. The developer then continued with work and the Band continued to try to bring the Province to the table.
In addition to the uncovering of an intact burial of an adult ancestor in January, continued work on the site has unearthed two partially-uncovered infant burials. The developer has applied for permission to remove these remains. On May 3, 2012, in response to this development, over 100 Musqueam and supporters marched to c̓əsnaʔəm to demonstrate commitment to the appropriate and respectful care of our ancestors and to demand action. Musqueam protestors and supporters continue to maintain a vigil around the clock.
Musqueam’s Chief & Council and Administration have been in discussion with the developer, the City of Vancouver, and the BC Government since March 2012 in attempts to reach a solution. Musqueam has proposed a land swap – at no cost to taxpayers – and the creation of a public heritage park in recognition of Musqueam cultural history. This park would ensure the long-term protection of c̓əsnaʔəm, and provide a space for citizens of Musqueam and Metro Vancouver to proudly welcome visitors through the celebration of our ancient roots. We would like to applaud the City of Vancouver for their ongoing co-operation, and the developer for their continued engagement. The BC Government recently appointed a dedicated facilitator, but will not actively engage in the process. We will continue to work with these parties to come to a resolution, however this will require the participation and co-operation of the province, but this has not materialized.
On September 27, 2012 Musqueam received the Province of B.C.’s decision regarding the permits issued by the Province under the Heritage Conservation Act to permit a 5 story condominium development at c̓əsnaʔəm, also known as the Musqueam Marpole Village Site. As recognized in the decision, this site was declared to be a National Historic Site in 1933 as one of the largest pre-contact middens in Western Canada and has special significance for Musqueam.
Musqueam is pleased that the proposed development is no longer authorized by the permits issued by the Province and that the ancestral remains are to be restored to their original condition. Their disturbance caused great anguish to the community and the proposed development would have desecrated an ancient and sacred burial place and destroyed a site precious to the Musqueam as representing one of the few links to our heritage extending back thousands of years. It would also have destroyed a Canadian historic site and a heritage site that should be protected for all British Columbians.
Musqueam looks forward to being actively involved in the steps to be taken to restore the ancestral remains in accordance with Musqueam customs and beliefs, steps that must be taken immediately to prevent further deterioration.