Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link Project

Jeremy J. Leyden (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2014-017)

On behalf of the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT), Stantec Consulting Ltd. is conducting an Archaeological Impact Assessment for the proposed Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link Project. The proposed Project will involve the burial and operation of a fibre optic telecommunications cable and related facilities between the McGill Lake Microwave Site, just southeast of the junction of Highways 1 and 7, and the Town of Inuvik. The proposed cable will traverse some undisturbed lands, but will also parallel disturbances associated with an existing winter road and various highways over an approximate distance of 1,130 kilometers. It will travel through, or near, the communities of Fort Simpson, Wrigley, Tulita, Norman Wells and Fort Good Hope; and through lands associated with three Aboriginal Settlement Areas including: The Gwich’in Settlement Area, the Sahtu Settlement Area and the Dehcho Territory.

Investigations for the project in 2014 were completed under Class 2 Archaeologist Permit # 2014-017. In-field assessments were conducted by two separate crews under the supervision of Jeremy J. Leyden, M.A. and Andrea DeGagne, M.A. Both crews worked simultaneously throughout the early summer to complete assessments north of Wrigley, while a single crew returned in the latter half of September to conduct assessments south of the N’Dulee ferry crossing along the Mackenzie Highway. Each crew consisted of three archaeologists along with a wildlife monitor and a community assistant provided on a rotating basis by participating communities along the route of the assessment. The participants included representatives from the Gwichya Gwich’in, Nihtat Gwich’in, K’asho Got’ine, Begade Shotagotine, Pehdzeh Ki and Liidli Kue First Nation communities and the Norman Wells Métis.

During the field program, a visual review of the entirety of the Project footprint was undertaken through either drive-by or helicopter over-flight and at the discretion of each crew lead, specific areas of significant heritage potential were subject to a more intensive field assessment including pedestrian traverse and intensive surface examination to determine the presence of any unrecorded archaeological or cultural sites. Shovel tests were also excavated in areas with a potential for buried cultural materials. Revisits were conducted for any previously recorded sites occurring within the assessment footprint, but were also completed where necessary, to confirm the locations of any known archaeological sites within 250 meters or any burials within 500 meters of the disturbance footprint.

By the conclusion of the 2014 field program over 250 discrete areas were subject to pedestrian traverse with over 2500 total shovel tests excavated at more than 200 of these locations. A total of 139 cultural sites were identified including 89 that were newly identified and 50 revisits of previously recorded sites. While 81 of these sites were found to have a contemporary association, 58 sites were determined to be of an Archaeological, Historic or Palaeontological nature. These sites include fossil sites, several precontact period lithic scatters and campsites, and a variety of historic period sites including: artifact scatters, historic structures, camps/settlements/trading posts, burials/cemeteries, barge landings, foundation/pit features and a historic food cache. The GNWT has committed to avoiding all historical, archaeological or burial sites that occur within the assessment footprint by at least 30 meters and is currently developing an avoidance strategy for the Project. As of December 2014, field evaluations are complete for all assessment areas with exception of that between the N’Dulee ferry crossing at the Mackenzie River and the town of Wrigley. Completion of this outstanding work is currently projected to be undertaken in early 2015.

(Edited by Shelley Crouch, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre)