Trans Mountain is committed to the protection of archaeological and heritage sites, as well as areas of cultural significance for Indigenous groups. Part of Trans Mountain’s environmental field studies includes archaeology surveys. Extensive work has been done over many years as part of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project to work with communities to identify sites, determine any potential environmental impacts and to reach understandings on mitigation measures to reduce the likelihood those impacts. Our goal is to protect the environment, to avoid sensitive sites or have as little impact as possible and, where we do have an impact, ensure we return the land to the same or better function.

We spoke with Sean Britt, Director of Environment, to discuss archaeology and what it means for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

Tell us about the work Trans Mountain does regarding archaeological resources:

Archaeological resources are not your typical environmental feature. They are not a tree that can be re-planted or a wildlife den that can be rebuilt. They are a finite resource that represent the physical story of people’s history. Whether it’s an historical site such as a trapper cabin or a pre-contact site like pithouses, the feature is a storybook of the past trapped in the remains of the soil. In some cases, this story extends above the surface and there are physical attributes across the landscape, such as cairns. These stories are incredibly important to the people whose communities we traverse with the Project. A significant part of our relationship with Indigenous communities is ensuring these invaluable resources are avoided or mitigated to minimize the impact on the stories they collectively contribute to.

The vast majority of archaeological sites across Canada have been identified as a result of previous development, and we are fortunate as a Project to be able to support archaeological studies that identify new sites and work with qualified archaeologists and local Indigenous communities to avoid or mitigate these features. To date, our Project has invested more than $40 million in archaeological studies and identified nearly 400 new archaeological sites and revisited previously known ones. This body of knowledge has helped contribute to the collective history of communities we are fortunate to call our partners.

Since 2012, Trans Mountain has worked with qualified archaeologists and participating local Indigenous communities across our pipeline corridor on archaeological studies. These studies are undertaken on both Crown and private land to provide information to determine the potential effects the Expansion Project may have on archaeological resources.

We have used these studies to guide the Trans Mountain Expansion Project planning. This planning includes avoidance wherever possible, and where not possible, work with Archaeology Branches in British Columbia and Alberta to obtain all required permits and authorizations. We are aware of archaeological sites across our Expansion Project and have assessed all areas to implement appropriate mitigation measures for construction.

What mitigation factors are done to protect sensitive archaeological areas?

Our first priority is always to try and avoid the feature and ground disturbance. We’ve avoided features through numerous means including installation of air bridges, boring under sites, narrowing the Project footprint or installing geotechnical fabric with construction matting. Sometimes full avoidance may not be feasible due to constructability reasons (e.g., limited space in urban areas) or for safety factors (e.g., ground requires level grading for safe installation). In these cases, our permit-holding archaeologist develops mitigation recommendations for the portions of the feature we will impact. These recommendations are communicated to regulators and communities through reports and permit applications and often incorporate recommendations from local Indigenous community participants who supported fieldwork activities. The recommendations are typically monitoring of ground disturbance activities by a certified archaeologist and/or systematic data recovery which is the methodical gathering of information about the site through hand-excavation. Since 2016, Trans Mountain has been actively engaging local Indigenous communities to participate in all archaeological fieldwork and this participation has been invaluable in helping to determine how the Project can best avoid or minimize impact to heritage resources.

Trans Mountain is committed to working in cooperation with all Indigenous communities within whose territories we operate. Our goal is to build and sustain effective relationships based on mutual respect, trust and shared prosperity.