More than 1,000 years ago, members of the Songhees First Nation laid the body of a teenager to rest in a shallow grave overlooking what is now known as Cadboro Bay.
Last week, the youth's ancient skeletal remains resurfaced on a vacant residential lot in the Victoria suburb of Saanich, halting plans to build a $1-million home and sparking a police probe into allegations that the property's owners violated the province's Heritage Conservation Act.
Provincial archeologists who had been monitoring the property alerted police last Wednesday after discovering that workers digging the foundation for a new home had unearthed a human skull, knee and leg bone.
Experts at the Royal B.C. Museum told police the bones are "at least 1,000 years old" and "from a person under 18 years of age," Saanich police Sergeant Julie Fast said. "It's believed they are from an aboriginal settlement site and it's likely the Songhees First Nations will take possession of them."
The bones were found at the bottom of a tiny, steep crescent lined with upscale homes, not far from the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, in an area long recognized as a significant native archeological site.
As such, property owners are required to obtain a special permit from the provincial archeological branch prior to the start of any construction.
"Any alteration such as digging or building on the site requires a permit," Ms. Fast said. "I don't know what the homeowner knew beforehand, but I can confirm there was no permit obtained."
B.C.'s Heritage Conservation Act provides for a fine of up to $2,000 or six months in jail for unlawfully disturbing a burial site.
The property's owner has been ordered to stop work on the home until police complete their investigation and the archeological branch has had a chance to conduct a thorough examination.
Neighbours identified the owner as Oak Bay resident Henry Ravenscourt. However, a woman who answered the phone at Mr. Ravencourt's residence yesterday said the family is "not commenting on it until the archeological branch has had a chance to conduct its investigation."
Royal B.C. Museum archeologist Grant Keddie said native burial sites are common along the western shores of Oak Bay and Saanich, and he recalled excavating human remains from an area nearby the property in 1986.
"At the time I dated the site to about 1,800 years ago," Mr. Keddie said. "It's one of two large archeological sites at the back of Cadboro Bay."
Based on his knowledge of the area, Mr. Keddie said, there is a strong possibility that more bones will be unearthed nearby.
Two years ago, the discovery of human remains on private property near Willows Beach resulted in the excavation of about two dozen ancestral skeletons, he said.
Songhees First Nation councillor Ron Sam said yesterday provincial laws are too weak to deter property owners from digging without permission.
"They know full well there's bones under there and they just go ahead and do it anyway because they know there's no penalty," Mr. Sam said, adding that the band is seeking legal advice. "We can say what we want, but at the end of the day it's private property and we can't stop it."