September 2019

Parliament Hill Gravesite: TRUTH OR HOAX?

     Lately, our local and international media tabloids have been exploding with stories of brutality and murder, right in our own modern urban spaces: backyards, shopping malls, and parks. Those stories involve the same, age old issues that continually surround the topic of violence: how do we prevent violence? How can we make our communities safer and stronger?

     Perhaps some answers are lurking in our past. Whatever the case, political leaders have launched a frantic quest to produce vital solutions. So, it is no wonder that after a controversial archaeological site allegedly unearthed Canada’s own clear links to a violent history, potential solutions become even more remote. This discussion – brief, but to the point -- will focus on four contentious, yet confirmed Indigenous ancient communal grave sites in the National Capital Region: bone fragments may be mixed right into the very mortar presently upholding the foundations of Parliament Hill.

     Constructed in Quebec City, Ottawa, on the southern bank of Ottawa River in Ontario, Canada, amid the 1860s, and nicknamed “The Hill”, Parliament Hill is a region owned by the Royal Monarch – Queen Elizabeth the Second. Could this explain the government’s controversial cool attitude surrounding the excavations? Its architecture expresses the stylistic grace of its owner.

     A Victorian, High Gothic iron fence named “Wellington Wall” encloses this massive, Gothic Revival Style building complex. A Peace Tower sits at the north, where the main entrance to Parliament Hill is located. The complex grounds encompass nine hundred and fifty-two square feet in an area between the Ottawa River on the north, the Rideau Canal on the east, Wellington Street on the south, and the Supreme Court on the west.

     The very controversy includes how federal officials keep the archaeological finds from excavations in the past twenty years very low key; apparently, evidence of “pre-contact” Indigenous objects does not clearly indicate the presence of an Indigenous culture right beneath the grounds of a national legislative building. However, with respect to available archaeological findings, many still question, just how can that be? Just as controversial, despite that twenty indigenous skeletons were excavated around the 1840s, the building project was still approved in 1857!

     For example, one 2018 article claims: “Sand from a communal Indigenous burial ground, almost certainly containing fragments of human remains, is believed to have been used to mix mortar for the original Parliament Buildings.”1 A second article claims: “A 2015 archaeological study conducted by Stantec Consulting as part of a rehabilitation of Parliament's Centre Block states that ‘a few pieces of pre-contact Aboriginal pottery’ had been found on the Parliament grounds.” 2

     A look at the historical origin of Parliament Hill, function, and context is in order. In the United Kingdom, Parliament Hill is based on the royal prerogative. Its system goes back to the dominant settlements of feudal Anglo-Saxon power after ninth century Viking attacks, a period when Alfred the Great stabilized the region of Wessex. The power of England became centralized to an even greater extent after the Norman Duke, William’s conquest, in 1066.

     The embroidered, coloured woollen Romanesque styled 230 foot by 21 inch linen, TheBayeaux Tapestry, narrates the seventy scenes that transpired between William and Harold of Wessex, and eventually drew the Normans’ conquest of England to a close with the Battle of Hastings. Its technique includes back, stem, split, and outline stitching. The Bayeaux Tapestry is on display at the Bayeaux Cathedral, in Bayeaux, Normandy, France.

     In terms of function, what are the royal prerogatives of the parliament in the United Kingdom? These include the power to elect and dismiss ministers, negotiate treaties, alliances, and international agreements, regulate civil service, decree passports, declare war and peace, and manage the military.

     As for the context of Parliament Hill’s emergence, there is one fact that nothing can ever obscure: centuries ago, First Nations people inhabited that very region, and certainly died in it. Later, traders and journeymen from Europe populated the Ottawa River area along the Gatineau coastline. Builders of the Rideau Canal used the canal -- which connects the River to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River -- as a military base.

     Despite that a French colonist, explorer, and navigator Samuel de Champlain,1567-1635, discovered the area of Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River during a journey across the Atlantic, his discovery did little to assuage the violent image of Canada’s past. Still, Champlain is credited with the founding of Quebec and New France in 1608. Nevertheless, since when Is newly discovered land a good reason to carry out violent deeds against the native peoples of a given land?

     In 1609, the Huron, Algonquin, and Montaganais tribes of the Saint Lawrence River demanded assistance against the Iroquois at Richelieu River in exchange for their alliance. 250 Iroquois Indians came upon Champlain; he shot two of them dead with one arrow. Later, in 1610, Louis XIII, the Wendat, Algonquin, and Innu fought the Mohawk Indians in New France at the Battle of Sorrel. In 1620, Louis XIII of France had Champlain settle in Quebec and begin the administration of the new founded region.

     More controversy involves the soil of a centuries old Indigenous gravesite that Dr. Van Cortlandt dug up twice in the nineteenth century. It was from this ancient communal cemetery where human bone fragments mixed with mortar to construct the Parliament Buildings in1863. This article mentions a possibility that the East and West Block buildings may contain bone from prehistoric occupants of the Ottawa Valley. Moreover, the timing of this sensational discovery corresponds perfectly with Trudeau’s controversial desire to dissolute the Parliament.

     Does the  Parliament Hill site convey the reality of Canada’s violent past, or is the evidence merely a fabricated, fraudulent, propagandist hoax?

1. Lauren Stokes, “Unearthing Parliament Hill's Indigenous Remains” August 2, 2019, https://nowtoronto.com/news/parliament-hill-indigenous-remains 
2. Randy Boswell, “Time To Acknowledge Evidence: Parliament Hill Sits on Indigenous Territory,” November 9, 2018, https://ipolitics.ca/2018/11/09/time-to-acknowledge-evidence-parliament-hill-sits-on-indigenous-territory