Archeologists have uncovered 60 graves containing human remains beneath a church parking lot – graves that were meant to be moved in the 1920s.
Construction was set to begin in early fall to convert the parking lot of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, near Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue, into a sports field for a school that is being reconstructed. But a member of the church suggested human remains in a graveyard from the 1800s might still be below the concrete.
The church was founded in Weston Village in 1853, and the parking lot was made when the building was reconstructed in 1953. According to the church's records, the graves were moved about 30 years before that.
The church contacted Archaeological Services Inc., a company that does predevelopment assessments, which suggested doing a test dig in September.
The initial test uncovered four graves. Since then, 60 have been uncovered. Ron Williamson, the head archeologist for the project, said the number will grow as the work progresses.
"I have never seen an entire cemetery moved," Mr. Williamson said. "When we hear that a site was moved, we don't believe it. In our experience, people rarely have the story straight of what happened a hundred years ago."
In those days, families of the deceased were usually responsible for moving the corpses. But digging out a grave could be difficult, so many often just relocated the headstones, Mr. Williamson said.
The remains are bones, the archeologists said. All of the organic materials — flesh, bodily fluids and wood from the coffins — have decomposed. The oldest grave dates back to 1866.
"We can't identify all of the people at this point because were not exposing the bodies," Mr. Williamson said, adding that about 10 per cent of the graves have markers.
By the end of the dig, the archaeologists plan to have a complete map that will confirm the number grave sites and move forward from there, Mr. Williamson said. He said the team has to find all the graves before the work can begin to convert the parking lot to a sports field. He added that he doesn't yet know how the graves will affect construction.
Toronto Catholic District School Board spokesperson John Yun said the school will move forward with its reconstruction plans on the school until more information comes in.
The parking lot is about 500 square meters and sits beside a strip of property owned by Metrolinx, where track work is being done on the Weston tunnel.
Metrolinx completed an historical assessment of the area in 2010 before it began excavation in 2012, Metrolinx's spokesperson Malon Edwards said. Nothing turned up during the excavation of the tunnel, he said.
The track was originally part of the Grand Trunk Railway, which was established in 1856, Mr. Edwards said. Metrolinx acquired the property in 2009.