A SMALL museum at Cedarvale east of Terrace says CN won’t provide it with aboriginal artifacts found while adding sections of siding.
Mary Dalen of the Meanskinisht Village Historical Association which runs the museum at Cedarvale says she understands material uncovered during track construction includes arrowheads, flint and cooking bowls.
Cedarvale is located alongside of Hwy16 on the south side of the Skeena River, approximately 75km from Terrace, just across the river from the siding work on the north side of the river.
Dalen said she and a son were even denied an opportunity to examine what had been found when they went to the construction site.
“When we went there, they wouldn’t let us down to where the work was going on,” said Dalen.
She said subsequent conversations with CN officials about the artifacts have proved fruitless.
But CN deliver to the historical association what Dalen calls “boxes of twisted wires and metal” taken from the construction location.
The four cardboard boxes also contain one insulator with Grand Trunk Pacific stamped on it, and other unmarked insulators.
Grand Trunk Pacific, which finished the rail line to Prince Rupert in 1914, is the predecessor company to CN.
Dalen says any item with Grand Trunk Pacific does have historical relevance but doesn’t make up for not receiving any aboriginal artifacts.
“They’ve promised us a showcase for this material but we haven’t seen that either,” Dalen adds. She’s now worried about rumours the artifacts may instead be headed for the Ksan Historical Village and Museum in Hazelton or to the Museum of Northern BC in Prince Rupert.
Dalen’s connection to the artifacts CN found during track construction goes deeper than simply wanting them placed in the Meanskinisht museum.
Dalen’s Gitxsan fore bearers, living at a place called Gitlusec, were among to the first to greet Robert Tomlinson, an Irish doctor and missionary, when he arrived in 1888 to establish a Christian village there.
Tomlinson called it Meanskinisht (translated as “under the pitch pines”) and buildings were erected on both sides of the Skeena.
First Tomlinson and then his son, Robert Tomlinson Jr., took up land grants on both sides of the Skeena River. The land was first leased and then some parcels were sold to aboriginal people, including Dalen’s family members, she says.
Since CN’s project is going through some of the land first taken up by the Tomlinsons and then leased and sold to Gitxsan people living in the area, Dalen says there’s a strong connection to the artifacts the company found.
“These are artifacts which are part of our history,” said Dahlen.
She said buying leased land from the Tomlinsons was one way of establishing aboriginal title at a time of settlement when aboriginal title wasn’t being respected elsewhere.
Still, Dalen notes, it amounted to “having to pay for the land we [already] lived on.”
CN’s siding project is part of a multi-million construction project aimed at improving its ability to move goods and freight to and from the expanding port at Prince Rupert and at other facilities near that coastal city.
The artifacts are being evaluated by archaeologists.
The community of Meanskinisht, which at one time consisted of homes, churches, a school and a sawmill, no longer exists as an entity. The name was replaced by Cedarvale, chosen when a post office was placed beside the rail tracks on the north side of the river.
Today Cedarvale is accepted to be the small settlement on the south side of the Skeena alongside Highway 16.