BC Heritage Conservation Act

What’s it all about?

In 1960, the province responded to public concern over the loss of precious and non-renewable archaeological resources by passing the Archaeological and Historic Sites Protection Act (AHSPA). That legislation provided automatic protection for archaeological sites on Crown land and, where designated, protection for such sites on private land. In 1977, the Heritage Conservation Act replaced the AHSPA, introducing new heritage programs such as the BC Heritage Trust, and extending the legislated protection of archaeological sites on private land, without requiring formal designation.

All provinces in Canada have similar legislation for protecting heritage resources, along with most countries worldwide.

  1. What is an “archaeological site”?

    • An archaeological site is a location where there is evidence of past human activity. We can apply archaeological analysis to these sites in order to learn about past events and our own heritage.
    • Archaeological sites can include things such as ancient stone carvings, remains of ancient houses and campsites, shell middens and even culturally modified trees.
    • Archaeological sites represent only one component of a range of heritage resources found throughout the province, including things like historic buildings, shipwrecks, heritage trails, etc.
    • In British Columbia, these sites provide information about aboriginal life during the last 12,000 years, and non-aboriginal life for the past 200 years.
  2. Why should we protect archaeological sites?
    • Archaeological sites represent our only link to over 98% of the province’s human history.
    • They are a precious non-renewable resource.
    • Archaeological sites and their artifacts are important provincial resources similar to mineral deposits, arable land, forests, fish and wildlife.
  3. How are archaeological sites determined?
    • In most instances, archaeologists discover and record information on sites and their locations, and pass that information on to the Archaeology Branch.
    • Archaeologists require a permit from the Archaeology Branch in order to conduct this kind of work, so no government-authorized archaeological work can proceed on private property without the landowner’s knowledge.
    • Some sites – such as those with petroglyphs — may be easily determined by non-archaeologists.
    • Information submitted to the Archaeology Branch is entered into the Provincial Heritage Inventory. The Inventory is a recording system that depends on submitted information. It also includes information on many other kinds of heritage sites.
    • Archaeology Branch staff often receive informal information on possible sites from interested members of the public, who generally will not have an authorized work permit. They also sometimes get reports from archaeologists who are using existing information to make projections on site boundaries. That’s how information can be received and become part of the Heritage Inventory without the express knowledge of the property owner.
  4. How many archaeological sites are there?

    • The provincial heritage registry currently has just over 21,000 records of sites or objects that would fall into the category of “archaeological site”.
    • Since the registry is composed of records submitted by people outside the ministry, some information – such as legal descriptions – has not been consistently included. That’s why it’s difficult to say exactly how many of these sites may be situated on private property.
    • People have lived in BC for about 12,000 years, and the vast majority of archaeological sites are located below the surface of the ground. These factors make it extremely difficult to pin down an accurate figure as to the number of sites in the province.
  5. How can I find out if there is a known archaeological site on my property?

    • Consult with local government. Municipalities and Regional District offices have information on the locations of known archaeological sites within their jurisdiction. These offices are usually the first stop when obtaining a building permit or development permit.
    • Approach the archaeology branch . In-person inquiries are welcome during business hours, property owners are also encouraged to access information via the Branch’s Web site. Phone or fax inquiries are also welcome.
    • Depending on the complexity of the request, the Archaeology Branch will respond as quickly as possible.
  6. Why isn’t information on archaeological sites available on land titles?

    • On the surface making this information available on land titles seems like an easy answer – but it’s not that simple.
    • The vast majority of records within the provincial heritage registry do not contain enough information to identify individual private properties.
    • We are currently exploring the feasibility of including archaeological information on land titles.
  7. What do I do if there is a known archaeological site on my property and I would like to make property improvements or renovations?
    • You need to contact the Archaeology Branch: 250-953-3334.
    • The Archaeology Branch will be able to provide you with advice and guidance on how to proceed in a fashion that will avoid or minimize damage to the archaeological site.
    • That advice may include a recommendation to engage a professional archaeologist to conduct an assessment of your property.
  8. Is it true my property value will plummet if an archaeological site is identified on my property?
    • No. There is no hard evidence that having an archaeological site on your property will significantly reduce its value. In fact in many cases, properties have been developed and/or sold with the full knowledge of the presence of an archaeological site.
    • Having an archaeological site on your property may restrict some development options, but no more so than if there were a salmon bearing stream on the property, or if the lot fell under a restrictive zoning bylaw.
  9. Will I be fined if I accidentally come across a potential archaeological site while building?
    • The purpose of the Heritage Conservation Act is to encourage and facilitate the protection and conservation of our heritage, not to prosecute property owners.
    • Fines can only be levied by a court, following formal, legal prosecution.
  10. What is an archaeological impact assessment?
    • An archaeological impact assessment, like an environmental impact assessment, is a process where a trained professional looks at the archaeological site and your development plans.
    • A professional archaeologist can determine what impact the proposed renovations or improvements will have on the archaeological site.
    • The impact assessment report and recommendations will provide the Archaeology Branch with the necessary information to work with you in order to complete your project.
  11. Why does a property owner or developer bear the cost of an impact assessment?
    • Archaeological sites have remained intact for hundreds and even thousands of years, and can remain intact unless they’re disturbed. Development has the potential to disturb and damage these sites – which is something we want to avoid.
    • The province’s ‘developer pays’ policy is commonly applied when it comes to managing the impact of large commercial or industrial property development on various cultural and natural resources. The policy also applies to private landowners who are developing their property – for instance, putting an addition on their house, or putting in a swimming pool.
    • There are costs associated with hiring an archaeologist if an assessment and plan for managing the impact on potential archaeological deposits or human burials is necessary. However, by taking early action, landowners can minimize further costs down the road.
    • It is rare that development will be prohibited because of the presence of an archaeological site, however, some modifications to development plans may be recommended.
    • If a site is significant enough that its preservation is considered more important than a proposed development, the province will work with the property owner to find a reasonable compromise, and make sure any financial impact is kept to a minimum.
  12. What if I think I’ve discovered an archaeological site?
    • You should contact the Archaeology Branch: 250-953-3334.
    • You could also contact the archaeology or anthropology department of your local University or College for advice on what you have found.
    • For information on archaeologists who may offer assessment services, you can contact the B.C. Association of Professional Consulting Archaeologists, or try the yellow pages of your local telephone directory.
  13. Where can I find more information?
    • Information on how to obtain information from the heritage inventory or general information about archaeological resource management is available on this Web site, or you can contact the branch at 250-953-3334.