An archeological dig is about to be launched on a gravel parking lot adjacent to The Forks.
The City of Winnipeg recently issued a request for proposal for an archeological investigation into a portion of the site opposite the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, known as Parcel 4. The work is required in advance of the property’s sale to The Forks North Portage Partnership, where it will become part of the Railside redevelopment.
Even though a similar investigation was done about 10 years ago nearby — on the site where the CMHR was constructed — archeologist Haskel Greenfield said proximity doesn’t rule out new discoveries.
"Every place is going to be unique and different, but (gives us a glimpse) into a part of a larger puzzle," said Greenfield, an anthropology professor at the University of Manitoba.
While adjacent to The Forks, the Parcel 4 property is owned by the city, which has maintained it as a surface gravel parking lot leased to a company controlled by former mayor Sam Katz for the neighbouring ballpark.
The archeological investigation will involve only a small portion of the 5.4-acre parcel: an L-shaped site, some 39,800 square feet in size on the north side of the parking lot, adjacent to William Stephenson Way.
Council earlier this year agreed to sell the site, at market value, to The Forks, after it’s been prepared for redevelopment.
The Forks has included the Parcel 4 land as part of the Railside development, which would see the remaining surface parking lots at The Forks redeveloped over a 20-year period for a mixed-use, commercial/residential/public space development. It would involve up to 30, four-to-six-storey buildings on the two parking lots, linked with pathways and public plazas.
Most recently, the Free Press reported the Parcel 4 portion has been eyed by Economic Development Winnipeg as a “high-tech smart park,” dominated by the proposed new headquarters of Winnipeg-based company SkipTheDishes.
The site was promoted in 2012 by the civic administration for a hotel and water park, which met a wall of public opposition and ultimately rejected by council.
An audit into the controversial water park deal found the property had been appraised at $10 million in 2009.
"There’s a wealth of information that exists at The Forks that doesn’t exist in many parts of Manitoba, about the pre-history, the pre-contact cultures that doesn’t exist in any history books," Greenfield said. "There may be some oral traditions, but there isn’t a wealth of information about how people lived, where they lived, what they did, the activities, where they came from.
"We track all these things through an archeological excavation and basically build an entire complementary picture of what life was like in different times of the past."
A City of Winnipeg spokesman said the property is recognized by the provincial historic resources branch "as a protected historical site and therefore requires a heritage permit and an archeological investigation prior to any sub-surface operations at the site."
The RFP was issued Aug. 16, and bids must be submitted by Monday.
A civic spokesman said while council approved the entire Parcel 4 to be sold to The Forks, the portion of the site being investigated for the RSP will be transfered first.
The spokesman said the length of time required to complete the archeological investigation will be determined by the winning bid. Work is expected to begin in September.
The RFP states the objective "is to determine the actual or potential historical significance of the site." The investigation will include: archeological assessment, artifact analysis, and identification of historical liabilities.
The winning bidder will be required to hold regular meetings with undefined stakeholders; provide updates to a still-to-be-appointed Indigenous advisory committee and/or elder; and to prepare a report for submission to the provincial historic resources branch.
The civic spokesman said appointments to the advisory committee and the role of elder will be jointly made with The Forks, adding the provincial heritage permit requires the individuals to be in place before the dig gets underway.
The city has allocated $130,000 for the work.
To minimize disruption or destruction to any archeologically significant artifacts, councillors on the property and development committee had been told future buildings on the site would be constructed on piles, and no underground excavation would be allowed to occur.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.