Historical Dig Stops Landowner in his Tracks

By Sarah Trant
This article is reprinted with permission from the Landowner Magazine

Way back when the first settlers started moving into Ontario, life was pretty much a matter of survival. You acquired a piece of land and built a home. Hopefully the land provided you with the basic necessities of life. You grew your vegetables, had some livestock, raised your family and, if you prospered you enlarged your holding or maybe moved on to bigger and better things, leaving behind you the crumbling buildings and shards of broken china or a lost dime.

ll over Ontario there are reminders of those first settlers, as those who plough the land today, or who have walked through the bush well know. Here’s an old kettle turned up by the plough, a piece of china, a couple of modest gravestones grown over in a sheltered spot where once a family struggled to survive and had not the money nor a place to bury their loved ones except on their properties.

Ask Gary Eve. He knows all about it. It’s the determination of the ‘powers that be’ to preserve the history of the province (however tenuous) which has blocked his efforts to sever a piece of his property for his son, all in the name of archaeological relevance built on finding a rusty nail or two, some pieces of broken china and a quarter!

“I’m a law abiding individual,” says Eve, “and I like to do things the right way. So when I thought of severing a piece of the property I’d bought, for a place for my son, I went to the Elizabethtown/Kitley township and talked to the planning committee. I was told I could, in fact, get two severances off this piece of land.” There were two old structures on Eve’s new property: an old house built in 1888, and an older structure behind the house which, by Eve’s reckoning, was probably built in the early 1800’s.


“The planning committee weren’t so much interested in the structures as they were in the fact that a creek crossed the property. Due to the proximity to this creek I was told I would have to have an archaeological study done,” explains Eve.

And so began the nightmare.

Concerned about the cost of such a study Eve made inquiries and was initially told he would probably be looking at something in the range of $500. But then the quotes started coming in and they ranged from $5000 to $40,000.

Eve finally hired an archaeologist who came and performed a Stage 1 and Stage 2 study.

Stage 1 determines whether the area is of significance. “They found that Highway 29 is of considerable historical significance which I certainly didn’t know,” said Eve in some amazement.

Stage 2 involved taking tests of the physical property at frequent intervals. Over the four acres involved the archaeologists found eighty pieces of which 37 could be identified as originating in the 19th century. These mostly consisted of china shards and rusty nails.

Eve contacted the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport in Toronto to determine what had to be done and was told that he had to follow up with a Stage 3 study involving a far more extensive dig with estimated costs “running higher than the property’s worth,” Eve points out.

Eve is not one to be easily discouraged. So far, the archaeological studies had included a quick sketch of the historical background of the site. Eve decided to do his own study and took himself off to the Museum at Brockville.

Here he found information going back to the first property owners which included examining the 1851 agricultural census which went into considerable detail as to “how those first owners basically lived. I knew how many pigs, chickens – you name it.”


Meantime, armed with this information and acting on the suggestions from the Review Committee with whom he’d stayed in touch, Eve hired another archaeologist to perform a peer review of the first studies.

“They didn’t find anything of real significance when they visited my lot and they concluded that the site had no cultural value and should be removed from the records,” said Eve.

The peer review was duly sent to the Ministry along with the findings from the first archaeologists report with the result “I was told that more work was needed before the site could be removed from the records,” says Eve.

After Eve explored the estimates for a Stage 3 assessment only to find out that more, and greater costs would be involved he spoke to the review officer at the Ministry. “He told me that cost was not their concern nor was the fact that I simply didn’t want to spend more money.”

“I’ve talked to everyone I can think of,” says Eve. “My MPP, Steve Clark, has been a tremendous support.” In fact Clark is not only convinced after going through the mass of detailed historical research Eve has done, that the site has no historical significance but who also met with Minister Chan (Tourism, Culture and Sport) to support Eve’s case.

Eve has also written to Premier Wynn with the same negative result.

“Let me make it quite clear,” says Eve. “I am all for preserving Ontario’s historical roots. I think my research into the history of my property has proved that I am far from being an irresponsible land owner.

“I’ve read the guidelines produced by the Ministry which were revised, incidentally, in 2011 with no public input.

There is no appeals process. You simply cannot appeal any decision made by them. You cannot see them in person to plead your case unless you hire a licensed archaeologist.

“And yet I would suggest that I know more about my property now, through my extensive research than any member of the review board.

“Under the guidelines, if it can be proved that significant excavation has taken place on the property, it has no value.

Perhaps if I’d known that in advance I would have hired a bulldozer to totally destroy the piece of severed land before I let one archaeologist set foot on it. That might seem a costly process but it might be cheaper in the long run.

No question that these guidelines need to be reviewed in the harsh light of solid common sense.

“The history of rural communities across Ontario is a rich one. If you started exploring the land around those communities you would probably dig up all sorts of discarded objects from the past. Remember, those early families lived in the days before garbage pickup when what didn’t go in the compost heap was simply thrown out onto the back forty!

“Does this mean that every shard, every rusty nail and yes, even every old coin, is considered to be of historical significance?”

As matters currently stand, Gary Eve has played by the rules. He took the appropriate steps to apply for severances on his newly acquired property and continued to act in keeping with the information given him by the township and the Ministry although it entailed considerable cost in dollars and time. He not only spent considerable time researching the history of his property in depth, but has worked to clean up and maintain the two old properties on the site.

Throughout the whole process he has demonstrated a respect for a system, flawed as it seems through non transparency and knotted in red tape, and attempted to act within its guidelines.

But Eve is a determined man. “I’m not giving up yet,” he says. “There’s always the hope that one day common sense will prevail.”