No graves on proposed detox expansion land

There are no graves on the vacant land beside Pioneer Cemetery, according to the Yukon's archeologists.

There are no graves on the vacant land beside Pioneer Cemetery, according to the Yukon’s archeologists.

The government plans to use the site to expand the Sarah Steele detox centre, but was worried after ground-penetrating radar identified potential graves.

But the Yukon’s archeologists investigated and determined that the only things in the ground at those suspected sites are old logs and ancient river silt.

“There are no bodies, no,” said archeologist Christian Thomas. “Our first reaction is that it’s close to a cemetery, and that could mean there are burials outside the bounds of the cemetery because boundaries sometimes change,” he said.

Thomas said his team examined government records, including the Lost Graves of Pioneer Cemetery book in their research.

After getting a better sense of the historical uses of the site, including a proposed but later-abandoned expansion of the cemetery itself, the team started digging.

“We hired a backhoe. We dug two-by-three metre test trenches where the hits were. We were digging down slowly to see if we could see the outline of a hole that had been filled in. Once we were convinced there had been no hole, we went down about six inches at a time down to eight feet,” he said.

“In every case it turned out to be an old rotten log. What we found was completely undisturbed ground at the sites of the GPR hits,” Thomas said.

The City of Whitehorse transferred ownership of the land in question last month to the territory to allow construction of the detox centre.

With the site clear of burials, plans for the new detox centre will proceed, said Pat Living, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Services.

The department will work with Highways and Public Works to develop schematics for the new building, and construction should begin in about a year, Living said.