Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link Project

Jeremy Leyden (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2015-002)

On behalf of the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT), Stantec Consulting Ltd. conducted 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.

The first phase of the project was undertaken in 2014. Investigations for the project in 2015 were completed under Class 2 Archaeologist Permit 2015-002. The in-field assessment was conducted by a single crew under the supervision of Jeremy J. Leyden, M.A.. The crew consisted of two archaeologists along with a wildlife monitor and a community assistant provided on behalf of the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation. The team worked for two weeks in the early summer to complete assessments along a 144 km stretch of a 60 meter wide assessment corridor paralleling the Mackenzie Highway between the N’Dulee ferry crossing on the Mackenzie River and the community of Wrigley.

During the field program, a visual review of the entirety of the Project footprint was undertaken via truck from the adjacent highway. At the discretion of the 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 2015 field program over 40 discrete areas were subject to pedestrian traverse with over 100 total shovel tests excavated at more than 16 of these locations. A total of 48 cultural sites were identified including 22 that were newly identified and 26 revisits of previously recorded sites. While 37 of these sites were found to have a contemporary association, 11 sites were determined to be of an archaeological or historic nature. These sites include several precontact period lithic scatters and historic period sites including camps and cabins, historic use areas, a cemetery and a historic fort/trading post. GNWT has committed to avoiding all historical, archaeological or burial sites that occur within the assessment footprint by at least 30 meters and has developed an avoidance strategy for the Project in consultation with staff at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.

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