Solid Waste & Recycling


Safeguarding the past, for the future

Starting or expanding a landfill, composting operation, recycling depot or other waste-management facility requires meeting several types of legislation protecting human health or some other aspect of the public interest. One of these aspects...

Starting or expanding a landfill, composting operation, recycling depot or other waste-management facility requires meeting several types of legislation protecting human health or some other aspect of the public interest. One of these aspects is protection of heritage resources.

While many people may think of this as meaning mostly old buildings, the definition of “heritage resources” goes on to include graveyards, heritage landscapes such as villages, battlefields and gardens as well as Aboriginal sites such as ancient flint quarries and campsites.

And although heritage resource legislation is intended to protect the past, it’s written in a way that safeguards the future, by allowing development.

For anyone involved in solid waste management, it is perhaps ironic that some of the most revealing heritage resources, which require protection, are middens — the garbage dumps of ancient peoples, which provide valuable information on what people ate and the tools they used.

Anyone involved in construction of any kind, including waste-management facilities, needs to understand the intent and implementation of heritage resource legislation, and the role of consulting archaeologists who form the link between project proponents and their regulatory obligations.

Early consideration of potential impacts to heritage resources is a critical step in the planning process.

Understanding the process

The definition of “heritage resources” goes well beyond old buildings to include graveyards; heritage landscapes, such as villages, battlefields and gardens; and Aboriginal sites, such as ancient flint quarries and campsites.

In Canada, heritage resource protection is a provincial matter, with each province having its own regulations. Municipalities may have the authority to set their own bylaws that operate within the framework of provincial regulations or legislation and many of them have set up Heritage Committees who provide advice on which heritage resources, such as buildings, need to be preserved.

While there are significant differences in the details and application of the regulations across the country, the general intent is the same. As illustrated below, Ontario follows a four-stage process for construction projects to determine the heritage value or interest of potential archaeological site and protecting any heritage resources.

Stage 1: This stage involves a background review of the project area to assess its archaeological potential, which can be determined by the physiographic characteristics (including water resources, soils and topography) that may have been attractive to indigenous people and through historical records that indicate early Euro-Canadian development.

As large parts of Stage 1 involve the use of existing information resources such as historical atlases, government records and Internet-based databases to do the research, it is considered a “desktop” study. However, some of the research can also include a brief visit to the project area.

This survey may negate the promising prospects predicted by “desktop” studies for various reasons ranging from microgeography to recent construction activities.

The Stage 1 analysis may indicate that there is no need for further investigation and that there is no archaeological reason why development should not continue.

Stage 2: If Stage 1 indicates that there is potential for archaeological resources, a Stage 2 assessment is required to search for those resources through a property assessment, which can range from walking over ploughed fields looking for artifacts to digging a series of test pits, or even excavating trenches in urban and brownfield properties. At times, it is necessary to dig through fill material to find the original ground level.

If nothing of significance is found, the recommendation is made that no further assessment is needed.

Experience shows that in about 85 percent of construction projects where a Stage 1 was done, a Stage 2 is also needed. For example, on smaller sites, clients may ask us to carry out Stage 1 and 2 together, as this is likely to reduce costs and save time, allowing them to proceed to construction more quickly.

Stage 3: If the first two stages uncover artifact or features of interest, Stage 3 is carried out to determine the size and significance of the site. It will likely include further digging or other investigation.

Stage 4: This stage determines what mitigation measures are needed to protect the resources on site, if the Stage 3 investigation turned up resources of significance. In devising mitigation strategies, there must be a balance between the need to protect heritage resources and the desire to permit the development to proceed. This could include cordoning off of the whole archaeological site or parts of it through fencing or by covering it. Both these measures may result in rewriting of the plans for the site, which can be costly and may reduce potential revenue from the proposed development. Mitigation could also involve excavation and removal of the artifacts and recording of features.


One of the major trends in preservation of heritage resources in Canada is more involvement for Aboriginal communities. Provincial regulators expect that project proponents engage with nearby Aboriginal community leaders, in cases where there is an impact to a known Aboriginal archaeological site.

Regulatory authorities need to be satisfied that the proponent has adequately engaged with the local Aboriginal community. Provinces and Aboriginal communities may have a specific protocol to follow to facilitate engagement but this is not always the case. Often, developers can best engage with the local Aboriginal community by hiring personnel from local Aboriginal communities to assist the archaeologists and to liaise with other community members.

In all types of communities, local involvement is becoming increasingly important. This includes consultation with local Heritage Committees and associations. Some of these organizations are more active than others, and may differ in their areas of concern — many of them focus primarily on the preservation of historic buildings, with less attention to buried archaeological sites where nothing is visible above ground.

In working with consulting archaeologists, developers need to be sure that the individual or firm they contract has the credentials to conduct archaeological assessments and is familiar with current legislation. This can help reduce the chances for challenges and delays to their plans for development.

Carla Parslow holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology with a specialty in Archaeology, and is licensed to practice Archaeology in Ontario. She is a Senior Archaeologist with Golder Associates Ltd., based in the Mississauga, Ontario.Contact Carla at

Print this page

Related Posts

Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *