As an archaeologist, the Heritage Conservation Act (HCA) is the main guide to what I do.
Similar to many legislative documents, it is a bit overwhelming and tedious to read, but vital to understand.
Every province has its own version of the HCA, so one must be aware of the provincial regulations specific to their work environment.
Creating regulations for the conservation of heritage property in British Columbia started back in the 1860s. At that time, archaeological processes were focused on colonial regulations and were not developed in consultation with First Nations.
In the 1960s, new regulations were created, but collaboration with First Nations was still absent. Following the rise of cultural resource management in the early 1970s, the first version of the HCA we know today was written in 1977 and is currently administered by the BC Archaeology Branch.
In 1987, First Nations were finally involved in changes to the HCA. The most recent changes took place in 2019, after 20 years with no revisions.
The purpose of the Act is to encourage and enable the protection and conservation of heritage property.
Heritage property is a designation applied to land the Ministry of Forest, Lands, National Resources Operations and Rural Development deems to have heritage value — the historical, cultural, aesthetic, scientific or educational worth or usefulness of a site or object.
Locations with evidence of past use that pre-date, or are assumed to pre-date, 1846 are protected under the Act, and some sites, such as human burials or shipwrecks, are protected regardless of age.
There are various ways of determining if a property has heritage value. There is a government-run database called Remote Access to Archaeological Data, which archaeologists, First Nations and industry representatives can apply for access.
The database comprises an interactive map containing all archaeological sites that have been registered with the BC Archaeology Branch through the submission of archaeological site inventory forms.
For areas where no data has been collected, a heritage inspection or investigation may be required. This is to assess the archaeological significance of the land, determine the presence of archaeological sites and recover information that might otherwise be lost through alteration or destruction.
In order to carry out the inspection or investigation, an archaeologist has to obtain an HCA permit from the BC Archaeology Branch. In the vast majority of cases, the permit must be held by an archaeologist meeting specific professional standards.
These permits have an extensive list of requirements, following strict guidelines outlined in the HCA.
If a site has been identified and cannot be avoided during development, a site alteration permit must be obtained, which authorizes modifications to the archaeological site.
One of the biggest changes to come about in 2019 was the requirement to have heritage inspections conducted if deemed necessary by the minister.
This means that more areas are required to have a heritage investigation conducted before commencing land disturbance. The proponent (individual or company) requesting the alteration of land is required to pay for the cost of the heritage investigation.
Another change is the enforcement of consequence for disregarding the HCA. There are now written penalties, power to obtain warrants, application of stop work orders and the ability of to suspend or cancel permits, among other methods, to enforce HCA regulations.
Heritage property is a non-renewable resource. Once it is destroyed or altered, we lose context and information, artifacts are destroyed and cultural heritage is lost.
Now that you understand a bit more about the rules, I encourage you to call before you dig — an archaeologist, that is. Help us mitigate the destruction of the thousands of years of history hiding just below the surface.
Abby Wilson is a archaeologist in the Kamloops area. Interested in more? Go online to republicofarchaeology.ca. Dig It is KTW’s regularly published column on the history beneath our feet in the Kamloops region, written by a group of archaeologists.
Past columns are at kamloopsthisweek.com.