By Andrew Wareing
For two Northern Ontario archeologists, keeping tabs on the past is the way of the future.
John Pollock in New Liskeard and Luke Dalla Bona in Sault Ste. Marie, together form Woodlands Heritage Services, a company that had its beginnings in 1999.
“Luke was working for the government doing computer-generated heritage potential maps,” says Pollock. “When he left government, he had an interest in forming a new company. I was interested in going into partnership.
Because of my own 28 years experience in field research in Northern Ontario, I thought it would be a good combination. We make a good complementary combination of talents.”
“I’ve been in archeology for over 15 years,” says Dalla Bona. “I’ve known John professionally and worked with him informally and formally on a number of projects. One day, I said “Let’s do it. Let’s form a company. You’ll work your part of the province and I’ll work mine and we’ll see what we can accomplish.””
Their job is cultural heritage impact assessments – determining which areas might hold archeological sites of Canada’s pre-settlement and early-settlement history.
“Under the Ontario Heritage Act, the Planning Act and the Environmental Assessment Act, before ground-disturbing developments can proceed where there might be an important heritage site, the developer is required to have an assessment by a licensed archeologist,” says Pollock.
Clients can include government and First Nations, as well as logging companies and land developers. Under government regulations, for instance, logging companies are required to make forest-management plans that include such considerations as buffer zones around potentially important heritage sites.
Technology, such as global positioning systems and computer-mapping technology, now make it possible to pinpoint those areas to within a metre, making the plans more accurate.
“Of course, we’re using GPS systems that are a lot more than what you might find on a store shelf,” says Pollock.
There is also a common misconception that the whole purpose of archeology is digging up artifacts for museums.
Nothing could be further from the truth, says Pollock.
“What we try to do is identify sites and avoid any impact to them if they’re doing something like timber harvesting,” he says. “Our goal is not to dig stuff up, but store artifacts in the ground. The idea is to leave these resources undisturbed. Obviously, this is not a renewable resource. Each (site) is unique and can’t be reconstructed. We have to leave them there for future generations.”
Dalla Bona says he and Pollock share similar priorities.
“I think we bring to the job the same values and sensibilities,” Dalla Bona says. “We first have a high sense of responsibility to the cultural heritage resource. They have a valuable place in the overall culture of Ontario. We also have a high degree of respect for everyone who has an interest in the land from the cottager from the United States, who has one lot they want to develop, to the First Nations band who has a sense of their heritage. But we also share the sense that, just because someone finds and arrowhead does not mean development should stop.
“We both feel that cultural heritage resource and economic development are not mutually exclusive,” says Dalla Bona.