Frequently Asked Questions about the archeological investigation of the site of the former Royal Victoria Hospital

What is the New Vic Project?

The New Vic Project is a revitalization of the site of the former Royal-Victoria Hospital (RVH) located on Mount-Royal, which has been vacant since 2015. McGill University is redeveloping a portion of the former hospital site into a state-of-the-art research, teaching, and learning hub dedicated to Sustainability Systems and Public Policy.

For this ambitious project to succeed, it must be anchored in the community through engagement and partnerships with McGillians, our neighbors, Indigenous communities, and all citizens of Montreal, Quebec, and Canada. It was through an extensive consultation process, undertaken since 2015, that the vision and guiding principles for this project emerged.

Where is the former RVH site located and what portion of the site will be used for the New Vic Project?

The New Vic Project is located on the south-east corner of the site of the former RVH and comprises approximately 15% of the site (approximately 18,000 square meters). It includes pavilions S (Surgery), A (Administration), L (West Wing), E (East Wing), M (Medicine) and T (Technical Annex, located between A and M). It excludes pavilions B, C, F, G, H, R, U (Irving Ludmer), V and X, as well as the Allan Memorial Institute and the Ravenscrag gardens.

The RVH site and building dates for the different pavilions
The RVH site and building dates for the different pavilions

The New Vic Project site
The New Vic Project site

What will the remainder of the RVH site be used for?

The Quebec government has tasked the SQI to redevelop and find new use for the reminder of the RVH site. On June 29th, 2023, the Quebec government announced it had given a mandate to la Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec (“CDPQ”) to conduct a feasibility study on converting the remainder of the site into a world-class inter-university campus mainly consisting of student housing as well as a research incubator, local shops and offices. CDPQ aims to provide a solution within 12 to 18 months, at which time the Government will decide to move forward with the project or not.

What are the guiding principles of the project?

  1. A project for Montreal, Quebec, and Canada
  2. Embrace the challenges of sustainability
  3. An idea factory that attracts, connects, and inspires
  4. Balance heritage, functionality, and sustainable architecture
  5. Recognize and honour Indigenous history and culture at the site
  6. Exemplify sustainable mobility and urban integration
  7. Enhance views and access to Mount Royal

What does McGill plan to do to honour the site’s rich history, including traditional Indigenous presence on the site?

The New Vic’s Project’s location on the southern slope of Mount Royal imbues the project with layers of meaning dating back to the site’s importance as a place of meeting and exchange among First Nations peoples. McGill is committed to honouring the site’s rich history and making the New Vic welcoming and culturally safe for the entire Montreal community, including Indigenous users. To this end, McGill has engaged with multiple community stakeholders throughout the project’s development, including Les amis de la montagne and representatives of the Milton Park neighbourhood. Moreover, the design of the new buildings will improve sightlines from the city to Mount Royal and improve public access to Mount Royal.

McGill has paid particular attention to the Indigenous history of the site. We have engaged Indigenous communities to co-develop proposals for Indigenous physical representation throughout the New Vic design phase. In Summer 2019, the New Vic Project initiated its Indigenous community engagement process with two Indigenous user group meetings. In 2021 and 2022, with the guidance and assistance of a fully-Indigenous-owned consulting firm, over 50 internal and external Indigenous community members were engaged in dozens of activities.

In all, 14 Indigenous physical representation proposals were validated during two reporting back sessions with McGill’s Indigenous faculty and staff, and external Indigenous community representatives, respectively.

Has the New Vic Project received any distinctions?

On December 1, 2023, Canadian Architect, the profession’s national magazine of record, announced that the architects of the New Vic Project, Diamond Schmitts and Lemay Michaud Architectes, had won a Canadian Architectural Award of Excellence for their design. The award jurors praised the architects for their excellent work:

Without compromising the integrity of the historic buildings or overly downplaying the new addition, the old buildings become much more accessible and will be given a new life”.

The New Vic, McGill University (canadianarchitect.com)

The New Vic Project in a few numbers

  • 760 active learning classroom seats for undergraduate and graduate students
  • 1,050 professors, staff, graduate and postdoctoral researchers engaged in research activities
  • 3,000 daily users, including students, staff, partners, and visitors
  • LEED & WELL certifications

How long has McGill been working on the New Vic Project?

McGill has been working on the New Vic Project for close to a decade. As a major public infrastructure project, the New Vic Project is covered by the Public Infrastructure Act (chapter I-8.3) and the Directive on the management of major public infrastructure projects. Thus, the project has already had to pass several important milestones before construction work can begin.

In February 2014, McGill expressed to the Quebec Government its interest in redeveloping the site of the former RVH. McGill subsequently (2018) submitted to the Quebec Government for approval a feasibility study (Dossier d’opportunité) to redevelop the New Vic Project on a portion of the site and a detailed business plan (Dossier d’affaires) for the New Vic Project (2022). At the same time, the Quebec Government mandated the Société québécoise des infrastructures (SQI) to develop a Master Plan for the entire site. On April 3, 2023, the ownership of the entire site passed to the SQI.

A public consultation, led by the Office de consultation publique de Montréal, was held from Fall 2021 to Spring 2022. In Fall 2022, the SQI, the City of Montreal and McGill University reached a Tripartite Agreement, establishing the roles and responsibilities of each partner for the redevelopment of the site, including the New Vic portion. This partnership namely includes the cession to the City of three lots behind the former Royal-Victoria Hospital. These lands will eventually allow new access to Mount Royal via the city center to Montrealers.

In June 2022, the Quebec Government approved the business plan and confirmed its $620M contribution to the project. The University’s contribution is $250M. In October 2022, McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG) approved proceeding with the Project’s Construction Phase.

The anticipated inauguration and move-in is 2029.

What is the lawsuit involving the New Vic Project about?

A lawsuit was filed in Québec Superior Court by the Kanien’keha:ka Kahnistensera, also referred to as the Mohawk Mothers, on March 25, 2022 against the SQI, the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), McGill University, the City of Montreal, and the Attorney General of Canada. The Attorney General of Quebec was later added to the list of Defendants, and the Special Interlocutor For Missing Children and Unmarked Graves was later added as an Intervenor in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit includes a number of claims raised by the Mohawk Mothers, including a land claim on Mount Royal, a permanent injunction ordering the stoppage of any demolition, construction and transformation of buildings on the site of the Allan Memorial Institute, Ravenscrag gardens and Royal Victoria Hospital, and a declaration that the Quebec Cultural Heritage Act is invalid. The claims directly impacting the New Vic Project include allegations that Indigenous children were among the patients subjected to MK-Ultra experiments carried out at the Allan Memorial Institute (AMI) on the former Royal-Victoria Hospital site in the 1950s-1960s, and that these patients were buried in unmarked graves on the site.

Under the lawsuit, the Mohawk Mothers also applied for a temporary injunction ordering the Defendants to halt all excavation on the former RVH site until a thorough investigation of the above-mentioned allegations could be undertaken. On October 27, 2022, the Quebec Superior Court granted the temporary injunction on all excavation at the site and ordered the parties to engage in a dialogue to develop the parameters of an archeological plan for the entire former RVH site.

Between the date of this court decision and February 2023, the SQI, McGill and the Mohawk Mothers met seven times to work toward an agreement on an archeological plan.

At a case management conference meeting on February 14, 2023, the Superior Court encouraged the parties to engage in a settlement conference facilitated by a judge to agree on an archeological plan. After three full-day meetings with a facilitator appointed by the Superior Court, an agreement was achieved on April 6, 2023.

On August 28, 2023, the Mohawk Mothers filed an Application for a Declaratory Relief and to Obtain a Safeguard Order. In this Application, the Mohawk Mothers allege that the Defendants, including McGill University and the SQI, breached the spirit and the letter of the Settlement Agreement signed on April 6, 2023. The University strongly denies these allegations and intends to make such representations before the Court in due course.

Moreover, an emergency hearing was held before the Superior Court on September 14, 2023, during which the Mohawk Mothers requested an order that SQI and McGill cease excavation work in zone #11. A decision was rendered by the Court on September 18, 2023, dismissing the Mohawk Mothers' application.

The parties returned before the Superior Court on October 27, 2023. At this hearing, the Court heard a motion that was presented by the Mohawk Mothers. On November 20, the Superior Court rendered a judgment which addressed the Panel’s role in the archeological investigation. Moreover, the Court refused to suspend excavation work at the New Vic site. SQI and McGill sought leave to appeal the November 20, 2023 decision because, in McGill’s view, the judgment contained legal and palpable errors. On January 19, 2024, the Court of Appeal allowed leave to appeal, recognizing that the appellants raised questions that warranted the Court’s attention. The granting of the leave had the effect of suspending execution of the Superior Court decision pending the appeal process. This appeal will be heard on June 11, 2024.

On December 14, 2023, the Superior Court rendered another decision following separate applications brought by the Mohawk Mothers and the Special Interlocutor concerning access to archival records at McGill University, MUHC and CIUSS-de-l’Ouest-de-l’île-de-Montréal, and more specifically disclosure of patient records. The Court dismissed their applications. On January 14, 2024, the Special Interlocutor filed an Application for leave to appeal this decision.

 

Was there ever a residential school on the site of the former RVH?

There is no evidence that there ever was a residential school on the site of the former RVH.

Has there been any person identified who is thought to be buried on the site of the former RVH site?

Neither the Mohawk Mothers nor the Special Interlocutor have identified any patients who disappeared after being treated at the Royal Victoria Hospital or the Allan Memorial Institute.

Are there unmarked graves on the site of the former RVH?

The allegations that there may be unmarked graves on the site of the former RVH are currently being investigated. The University wishes to shed light on these allegations, which will only be possible once the archeological investigation has been completed. To date, no human remains have been discovered.

What would happen if human remains are detected?

The work would cease immediately. Consultation would ensue with the archeological panel appointed in this case (see further details below), law enforcement authorities, the MCC and leaders of local Indigenous communities.

There was an agreement involving the Mohawk Mothers in April 2023. Who is part of this agreement and what does it say?

In addition to the Mohawk Mothers and McGill University, other parties include the SQI, the MUHC, the City of Montreal, the Attorney General of Canada, the Attorney General of Quebec, and the Office of the Independent Special Interlocutor on Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites Associated with Indian Residential Schools.

The agreement can be accessed here: PDF icon rectified_settlement_agreement.pdf

By this agreement, the temporary injunction preventing any excavation work on the former RVH site was lifted and the parties agreed to the following:

  • McGill will provide, on a best-effort basis, expedited access to its archives, including restricted files as permitted by law, and will provide a McGill archivist to work with Know History, a historical services firm chosen by the Kahnistensera. MUHC and the Attorney-General of Canada have also provided a similar undertaking. Canada agrees to fund two contracts between the Kahnistensera and Know History, i.e., statement gathering and archival work (sections 1 to 5 of the Agreement).
  • The parties agree to appoint three archeologists to form a panel of expert archeologists: Prof. Adrian Burke, Prof. Lisa Hodgetts and Justine Tétreault (the “Panel”). The three archeologists are jointly appointed by McGill, the SQI, and the Kahnistensera and will each act impartially and independently (section 6). Members of the Panel are compensated by McGill and the SQI at their hourly rates (section 8). The Panel reports to the SQI, McGill, and the Kahnistensera (section 12). The Panel may be accompanied by a junior student archaeologist observer appointed by the Kahnistensera (section 7). In addition, the Kahnistensera will appoint a Cultural Monitor(s) who can be present during the execution of the Techniques and conduct appropriate ceremonies paid at the rate of $50 per hour by McGill and the SQI (section 9).
  • The mandate of the Panel is to assess and identify the appropriate archeological techniques (the “Techniques”) to be used on different areas of the site to detect whether there are unmarked graves (also known as “Mapping”). The Panel is also invited to make recommendations as to specialists to carry out the Techniques (section 11). The duration of the Panel’s mandate was agreed to by the parties and is described in the Settlement Agreement. By submitting its final report on July 17, the Panel completed its initial mandate as agreed to by the parties in April 2023.
  • The SQI, McGill, and the Kahnistensera agree to be bound by the recommendations of the Panel as to the Techniques and agree to be guided by the recommendations of the Panel as to the specialists to carry out the Techniques and analyse the relevant data, but McGill and the SQI retain discretion to retain other providers with the appropriate qualifications and expertise if the circumstances warrant (section 13).
  • Mapping on the site of the New Vic Project and the areas where work is necessary for autonomization of public service infrastructure (autonomization allows each building at the site to have separate and independent public utility services) (the “Priority Zone”) will begin first and will be completed within three weeks of April 17, 2023 (section 15).
  • McGill University and the SQI will manage execution of the Techniques on a rolling basis as soon as Mapping is complete in a given area and the relevant permits are issued and for the first six months will keep the Kahnistensera advised in writing of the progress of the implementation of the Techniques every two weeks. McGill and the SQI will advise the Kahnistensera in the event any permits relating to the Techniques are required, in order for them to be able to make representations to the appropriate regulatory body (section 16).
  • The parties agree that if, following the execution of the Techniques, there are no graves identified in a given area the excavation work can begin on a rolling basis, in a sensitive manner with appropriate monitoring that will allow a prompt reaction in the event there is some unexpected discovery, at which point McGill, the SQI, and the Kahnistensera will seek the advice of the Panel as to how to move forward (section 17).

To whom does the Agreement give responsibility for managing the archeological investigation? Is it supposed to be Indigenous-led?

The Settlement Agreement of April 2023 states that the execution of the archeological Techniques, which are performed by the qualified experts recommended by the Panel, is managed by McGill University and the SQI. The Agreement provides that archival and testimonial work is managed by the Mohawk Mothers. This being said, a strong Indigenous presence is part of the archeological investigation. Cultural monitors can be present to conduct appropriate cultural ceremonies. The Mohawk Mothers have also been present at the site during the work and receive regular updates and all reports produced by the professionals. McGill welcomes and supports Indigenous presence during this work.

Has the archival work in McGill University Archives already happened?

A researcher from Know History, the firm appointed by the Mohawk Mothers to conduct the archival research, visited McGill University Archives (MUA) for several days in April 2023, and then again in June 2023. A McGill Archivist was provided to assist Know History’s representative. Several files from private fonds and institutional records were consulted and digitized. It is possible that the representative of Know History will return to MUA in the future, if required by the archival investigation.

What did the Panel recommend in their preliminary report?

On May 8, 2023, the Panel submitted their Preliminary report on the mapping and assessment of the former RVH site. This report was preliminary in the sense that it only addressed priority areas targeted by imminent construction work on the New Vic portion of the site, as well as areas targeted by the related project that is meant to render other buildings on the site “autonomous” or self-sufficient for their utilities, rather than dependent on each other, as was formerly the case (“Priority Zone”).

The Panel recommended three (3) Techniques, namely historic human remains detection dogs (“HHRDD”), ground-penetrating radar (“GPR”), and monitoring by archeologists during excavation.

The Priority Zone was divided into 17 zones which were categorized in 5 colors:

  • Green (no archeological technique recommended)
  • Yellow (monitoring during excavation work)
  • Orange (GPR, manual test pits to characterize anomalies flagged during GPR survey and monitoring during excavation work)
  • Pink (HHRDD, manual test pits to characterize anomalies flagged during HHRDD survey, monitoring during excavation work)
  • Red (HHRDD, GPR, manual test pits to characterize anomalies flagged during GPR and HHRDD surveys, monitoring during excavation work)

RVH priority area
RVH priority area

Who are the service providers that were recommended by the Panel to conduct the Techniques?

For the HHRDD survey, the Panel recommended five (5) service providers, including Kim Cooper – Best Friends Dogs Training in Ottawa, who was retained to conduct the HHRDD survey with her team of handlers and canines.

For GPR, the Panel stated that the survey should be conducted by “qualified experts with experience in the application of GPR technology to archaeological contexts”. The Panel recommended five (5) service providers meeting this requirement, including GeoScan, who was retained to conduct the GPR survey.

As for the monitoring, while the Panel did not recommend specific service providers, it did state that the monitoring should be done by an archaeological consulting firm with “extensive experience working in urban contexts in Montreal archaeology, and preferably with previous experience in the Mount Royal area”. The service provider that was retained is Ethnoscop, which meets the criteria stipulated by the Panel.

Did the Historic Human Remains Detection Dogs (HHRDD) survey already occur?

Kim Cooper, the service provider that was recommended by the Panel to conduct the HHRDD survey, conducted the HHRDD survey in the relevant zones identified by the Panel on June 9, 2023. Three (3) HHRDD teams (handler and dog) were used in the search. All three dog teams reported one (1) alert in a zone identified as zone 6. Consequently, Kim Cooper concluded that the odour of human remains was in that area.

An additional area (referred to as zone 57) was investigated by the HHRDD teams on August 29, 2023. No dog team reported any alert.

Finally, zones 41, 44 and 47 were surveyed by HHRDDs on November 5, 2023. An alert was given in zone 41, which will be further investigated in the Spring.

Since HHRDD dogs gave two alerts, does that mean there are unmarked graves on the site of the former Royal-Victoria Hospital?

The answer to this question is uncertain. As the Panel has described, the success of HHRDD surveys can vary:

While the specific chemicals (volatile organic compounds) the dogs are scenting are debated (Vass et al 2008, Cablk et al 2012), a handful of studies indicate good success rates for dogs trained to alert on dry human remains (roughly 60-95%; Komar 2019) though they also indicate caution is required because another study noted 20-70% false positives (Cablk & Sagebiel 2011).

The alerts thus require further investigation.

What further investigation was required following the HHRDD survey?

As recommended by the Panel, for exterior areas, a mechanical stripping of the topsoil and manual cleaning of an area covering a 10m radius around the point identified by the dogs in zone 6 was required. This work proceeded from July 19 to 25, and from August 23 to 31, under the direction of an archaeologist with experience identifying burials.

Zone 41 will be investigated in the Spring.

What has been discovered during the investigation that has followed the HHRDD survey?

Archeologists from Ethnoscop confirmed that nothing was discovered that could explain the one (1) alert given by the dogs.

What about the dress and the shoe that have been mentioned in the media?

The dress and the shoe that were mentioned in the media were not considered to be of archeological interest by Ethnoscop.

The dress is a modern dress (size 10, 100% polyester, made in China) that is likely from the mid-90s and has no value in the current investigation.

The part of the shoe that was uncovered is of a size 5 (woman’s or child’s shoe), from the first half of the 20th century. It is not unusual to find various debris or artefacts while proceeding with an archeological excavation.

Other findings included:

  • debris such as nails, screws, plastic bottles, etc.;
  • artefacts from the first half of the 20th century: Porcelain electrical insulators, terracotta shards, fragments of white clay terracotta pipes of T.D. brand, fragments of ceramic tiles, several bricks, and slate fragments; and
  • animal remains.

Ethnoscop has confirmed to all parties in writing that the artefacts, including the part of a shoe and the dress, were safely stored in their laboratories.

Where are these things found on the site stored, and what measures are taken to ensure the chain of custody with respect to discoveries on the site is respected?

Every day during which archeological work occurs on the site, Ethnoscop’s Project Manager deposits any items discovered during the day in their secured laboratory. Given the sensitivity of the archeological work on the site, Ethnoscop has taken a more conservative approach, and has kept items that, in its estimation, would normally not have been kept because they are not unusual finds for a dig of this kind (such as the modern dress from the 90s and the part of a leather shoe).

Ethnoscop has been working on this type of project for over 40 years and uses its own laboratories to accomplish this mandate. Ethnoscop has expertise in forensics and chain of custody, and its laboratories are locked and managed by an expert who ensures the follow-up of any items entering and leaving the laboratory.

The Settlement Agreement provides that McGill, the SQI, and the Mohawk Mothers will seek the advice of the Panel as to how to move forward if there is some unexpected discovery i.e., the second part of the Panel’s mandate (section 17).

Will the soil be sifted?

The piles of soil at the site were sifted through, despite the archeological firm’s professional opinion that it is not necessary. This required several weeks of work, in addition to specialized equipment, due to the presence of rock and bricks in the soil. We proceeded this way out of an abundance of caution. The sifting was completed by the end of October.

When was the ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey conducted?

GeoScan conducted the GPR survey on the zones identified in the May 8 Report from July 10 to 12, 2023. GeoScan also conducted a survey in an additional area by the Allan Memorial Institute on September 9 and 10, 2023.

What is GPR?

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) is a geophysical survey method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. It is a non-intrusive method that works by sending radio-frequency waves from an antenna into the ground. Soil layers and objects below the surface can reflect these waves, returning energy to the GPR to be received, recorded and later processed and interpreted. GPR cannot detect bones or directly image human remains, but rather difference in soil properties and in the arrangement of subsurface layers that may be associated with graves.

How is GPR data processed and interpreted?

A number of specialized data-processing steps are needed to ready GPR data for visualizations, which are presented in cross-sections and in map-view “depth slices” taken at every 10 cm depth down to about 2 meters. Interpretation of potential graves is performed independently by two highly trained geophysicists and then quality-checked and verified by a very senior-level archaeological geophysicist. Interpretations of possible graves are based on grave-like dimensions and shape in map view and also on specific patterns of disrupted soil layers in cross section. Experience allows interpreters to fairly readily pick out common subsurface features like utilities, tree roots, geology, buried foundations and the like; this is important as these can potentially be confused with graves.

Did the GPR survey identify graves?

The GPR survey conducted from July 10 to 12, 2023 did not identify any “likely” grave type features. Nine (9) “potential” grave type features were identified scattered throughout the survey areas, which will require additional investigation. In addition, a significant number of “unknown" features were noted throughout the survey areas, many of which are suspected to be associated with rock and/or fill material or natural geology/hydrogeology. In their May 8 report, the Panel recommended the following:

“(…) we recommend that the formal survey be completed and ground-truthed by manual work. In that regard, anomalies picked up during the formal survey phase would be flagged and investigated through manually dug, fully sifted test pits, in standard archaeological method, to confirm or deny the presence of a burial. We recommend opening a 1 X 1 m test excavation on the location of any targets of interest (anomalies suspected to be potential graves) identified by the GPR to confirm or deny the presence of a grave. Should a burial be confirmed, work should stop immediately and proper steps be taken to ensure the protection of the remains while the appropriate course of action is determined by local Indigenous communities.” (emphasis added)

McGill and the SQI are fully respecting this recommendation. In fact, Ethnoscop went beyond the Panel’s recommendation, in that the 1 X 1 m opening for test excavation was increased to 2 X 2 m.

As for the GPR survey conducted on September 9 and 10, 2023, it identified one (1) zone presenting “potential” grave type features and 25 unknown anomalies, which were investigated.

Did GeoScan, the firm who conducted the GPR survey, respect the technical recommendations of the Panel?

Absolutely. In fact, GeoScan went beyond the recommendations of the Panel and the Canadian Archeological Association Working Group on Unmarked Graves (CAAWGUG). Notably, the Panel recommended that the GPR survey should be conducted in transects spaced at a maximum of 50 cm apart. GeoScan’s grids were in fact about 9 cm apart, not 50 cm, thus ensuring a more precise read in its survey. Other ways in which GeoScan’s survey exceeded CAAWGUG recommendations were in positional accuracy, as well as in processing and interpretation protocols.

Why is McGill making a distinction between “potential” and “likely” grave type features?

No, these are evidence-based expressions in the probability that a given feature may be a grave, although there are no certainties. These expressions are the ones used by GeoScan, the expert provider conducting the GPR survey, and they are associated with the following distinct definitionsare explained below:

“Likely Grave”: Subsurface features identified as displaying characteristics consistent with grave-type geophysical signatures. These signatures display clear identifiable geometry and extent in map view in both methodologies’ datasets. Observed geometry is not consistent with geological origins.

“Potential Grave”: Subsurface features identified as displaying characteristics consistent with grave-type geophysical signatures. Geometry of these features are variable and/or ambiguous as compared with the “Likely” category above.

“Unknown Source”: Subsurface disturbance of unknown origin. These may display a cluster of signatures or a singular source that may be associated with anthropogenic sources with low probability; however, geological, or biological origins (e.g., tree roots, animal burrows) cannot be fully ruled out.

How certain are the GPR results?

Because geophysics is a method that doesn’t directly image human remains, the truth of what’s in the ground depends on careful, respectful archaeological investigation. Based on many years of experience and on a clear logical process, GeoScan is able to assign 3 different levels of certainty to interpretations of suspected graves based on the weight of the evidence (see definitions in question above).

Were the nine (9) “potential” grave type features identified by the GPR survey conducted from July 10 to 12 investigated?

Yes. While the Panel recommended that 1 X 1 m test excavation pits be dug on the location of the nine (9) zones, Ethnoscop decided that it would be best to increase the opening to 2 X 2 m, thereby going beyond the Panel’s recommendations. This investigative work was completed by Ethnoscop from September 4 to 6, 2023. Further, various areas identified as “Unknown Source” in the vicinity of the nine (9) “potential” grave type features were investigated. No burials or graves were uncovered during this work. Ethnoscop’s analysis is that the anomalies picked up during the GPR survey are explained by changes or contrasts between soils or soil density and the presence of rock and debris.

Were the one (1) “potential” grave type feature and 25 unknown anomalies identified by the GPR survey conducted on September 9 and 10 investigated?

On October 23 and 24, 14 holes of varying sizes were made to assess the 26 anomalies picked up during the GPR survey conducted on September 9 and 10. The anomaly corresponding to a "potential grave’’ turned out to be a concrete mass with electrical cables running through it, while the 25 unknown anomalies were associated to various infrastructures or geological characteristics. Only anomaly U15 was not excavated, as it was located under a concrete jersey and site fencing. However, from its position and those of anomalies U16 and U17, there is no doubt that it was an old plastic drain, allowing rainwater to run off the parking lots and the roads connecting them.

What Techniques did the Panel recommend in their Final Report?

On July 17, the Panel submitted their Final Report regarding the mapping of the non-priority area of the RVH site, covering additional zones (zones 18 to 56). In addition to the three (3) Techniques that were identified in the May 8 report (HHRDD, GPR and monitoring during excavation work), a fourth Technique was added for the non-priority area: Soil spectroscopy.

Did McGill and the SQI terminate the panel of archeological experts?

No. The panel of archeological experts – whose three members were appointed by the SQI, McGill and the Mohawk Mothers in accordance with the Settlement Agreement – delivered its final report on July 17, 2023. As such, it is McGill's position that the Panel fulfilled and ended its mandate, as stipulated in sections 11, 13 and 14 of the Settlement Agreement.

This is also in line with the letter of mandate addressed to the members of the Panel on April 14, 2023, as well as the service contracts signed by McGill University and the members of the Panel.

However, in the event of an unexpected discovery in an area that had been determined not to have any grave and where excavation work is taking place, McGill, SQI and the Mohawk Mothers will seek the advice of the Panel as to how to move forward, in accordance with section 17 of the Settlement Agreement.

In a decision rendered on November 20, 2023, the Superior Court interpreted the Agreement in such a way that it determined that the Panel’s mandate was not limited to making initial recommendations about search techniques and the specialists who will carry them, thereby extending the Panel’s role. McGill University and the SQI are seeking leave to appeal this decision before the Quebec Court of Appeal.

What is the security incident that occurred on the site on July 25, 2023?

On July 25, after the archeological work had stopped for the day and the professionals from Ethnoscop had left the site, an incident occurred during which a security agent asked the Mohawk Mothers and the Cultural Monitors to leave the site, in a disrespectful manner. The SQI, who is responsible to ensure the security on the site, and McGill have unequivocally condemned the incident. Measures have been taken to address the matter and to ensure that such incident does not reoccur. Notably, the security firm in question has been replaced by a firm that has appropriate cultural competency training.

What has happened since this incident?

After the incident took place on July 25, the Mohawk Mothers declared that they and the Cultural Monitors felt unsafe and that the archeological work could not resume until measures were taken to address the situation.

Work on the site was therefore halted as discussions took place between the Mohawk Mothers, the SQI and McGill University to find a path forward in which the archeological work could resume in a way that everyone felt safe.

On August 22, an agreement was reached. In this agreement, the security of the site continues to be overseen by the SQI, but is now handled by a firm whose security guards have completed cultural sensitivity training and are well aware of the right of the Cultural Monitors to be present on the site during the archeological work. At the same time, two representatives of a separate security firm, selected by the Mohawk Mothers, will also be present on site to accompany the Cultural Monitors. The parties have agreed to put this plan in place for a trial period, hoping it will lead to peaceful and productive working conditions.

Have the Mohawk Mothers returned to the site?

The Mohawks Mothers and Cultural Monitors returned to the site on August 23, after an agreement was reached for the resumption of the archeological work. On Sunday, September 10, 2023, the Mohawk Mothers informed McGill and SQI that they and the Cultural monitors would not be at the site the next day. They were not present from September 11 to 18, 2023, which is their right.

Has there been another incident relating to safety recently?

On October 2, 2023, an incident occurred during which one of the Mohawk Mothers crossed the construction site barriers and stood in front of actively operating heavy machinery, in breach of safety rules. This was a very serious safety concern for the individual, the cultural monitors, and the construction workers on site, and resulted in the halting of construction work for the day. This led to a decision to increase the security parameters concerning access to the site .

Are McGill and the SQI pressing forward to undertake excavation work at the site?

McGill and the SQI have no intention to begin excavation until it is ascertained that there are no graves in a given area. We are working in accordance with the Agreement (section 17), which provides:

The parties agree that if following the execution of the Techniques, there are no graves identified in a given area the excavation work can begin on a rolling basis, in a sensitive manner with appropriate monitoring that will allow a prompt reaction in the event there is some unexpected discovery, at which point McGill, the SQI and Kanien’keha:ka Kahnistensera will seek the advice of the Panel as to how to move forward.’’

McGill and the SQI have initiated the process to request permits so that such work can begin if and when the archeological investigation makes that possible. Note that these permits require consultation with the local Indigenous band councils.

Ethnoscop has been making permit requests for all the archeological investigations that are required based on the panel recommendations and the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications (“MCC”) approvals. Permit requests are shared with the Mohawk Mothers in order to allow them to make representations as they deem appropriate to the MCC.

What precautions are taken during excavation work?

As per the Panel’s recommendation, archeological monitoring is done during excavation work. The Panel of experts described monitoring in their Report as follows:

“Monitoring, sometimes referred to as archaeological surveillance or supervision, happens during construction work and involves an archaeologist (or a team) being present while excavation occurs. The archaeologist will guide the operator to excavate cautiously so that they can document the different soil layers present and any fortuitous discovery in an area that has not been deemed to possess an obvious archaeological potential.” (emphasis added)

McGill and SQI are fully respecting this Panel’s recommendation. Ethnoscop is present at all times during the excavation work and is ensuring the monitoring.

Are McGill and the SQI in contact with Indigenous communities?

The SQI and McGill have maintained connections with the leadership – both elected and traditional – of local Mohawk communities throughout the evolution of this infrastructure project in order to seek their counsel and input and to keep their communities apprised of developments. We have done so in recognition of the fact that there are multiple voices and perspectives within a community, and we wish to show respect to its diverse representatives.

Back to top