Working Closely with Saskatchewan’s Rural Municipalities

We’ve been receiving a lot of calls from Rural Municipalities (RMs) regarding the Heritage process in Saskatchewan.  In general, RMs are being proactive and want to ensure that developments within their municipality are meeting all regulatory requirements, including those outlined in The Heritage Property Act.  

These questions stem from ‘proposed developments’ such as subdivision developments, municipal roads and road upgrades, lagoons and gravel exploration projects.  While most of these types of developments are often handled by an engineering firm; gravel exploration and/or gravel pit developments are often handled directly by the RM and/or the developer.  The intent of this article is to provide a concise overview of the Heritage process in Saskatchewan, while focusing on gravel exploration and/or development projects.

The Heritage Property Act (Part III and IV, Sections 59, 63, 66) outlines the key provisions for protecting heritage resources in Saskatchewan.  According to the legislation, heritage resources include Precontact Period and Historic Period archaeological sites, built heritage sites and structures of historical and/or architectural interest and palaeontological sites.  Heritage Resources are regarded as a public resource; however, all heritage resources are the property of the Provincial Crown and are protected under The Heritage Property Act (Section 66). 

In order to streamline the Heritage Resource Review (HRR) process to determine if you’re development is considered heritage sensitive, the Heritage Conservation Branch (HCB) (Saskatchewan Parks, Culture and Sport) has developed a user-friendly Developers’ Online Screening Tool (http://www.pcs.gov.sk.ca/SensitiveLocations).  Developers’ (e.g. RMs) will be prompted to log-in and then enter the Legal Land Location (quarter-section) into the search-criteria that the development is located in.  If you’re project is not heritage sensitive, you’re done!  Print a copy of the results and this document acts as your Heritage Clearance Letter.  However, if you’re development is heritage sensitive you will receive the following response, “Development on this quarter-section will require further screening by the Heritage Conservation Branch”.  At this time, you will have to submit your development for Heritage Review.  Project specific forms are found on the HCB’s website (http://www.pcs.gov.sk.ca/HeritageReviewForms), or in a lot of cases RMs will contact Atlheritage directly to assist with the referral process to determine if a HRIA is required.

For any proposed development project, the HCB relies on two primary factors to determine if the development will trigger an HRIA as per s.63 of The Heritage Property Act:

·         The presence of previously recorded archaeological sites; and

·         The heritage resource potential (or sensitivity) of the development area.

Important secondary factors include:

·         The nature and extent of previous land disturbance (including cultivation); and

·         The nature and scope of the development’s impact.

This information is taken into consideration with additional screening criteria developed specifically for southern Saskatchewan (grasslands, southern parklands); and, northern Saskatchewan (northern parklands, boreal forest).

Gravel exploration projects and/or gravel pit developments are a popular development that RMs commonly deal with.  The demand for gravel sources continues to grow every year in order to supply municipalities, highways and construction projects with gravel sources.  Unfortunately, the majority of gravel sources in Saskatchewan are often located near lakes, valleys and hills – a result from glaciation – often located in native vegetation.  These areas are typically considered to have high heritage potential to contain archaeological sites.  Precontact people favoured these locations for shelter and quarry sources for stone tool manufacture.  As a result, most proposed gravel pit developments end up with a HRIA requirement. 

If you’re gravel exploration project or development requires a HRIA, the developer is required to hire a qualified archaeological consultant to complete the HRIA requirement in order to be provided with regulatory approval as per Section 63 of The Heritage Property Act.  During the field assessment, the archaeologist(s) will assess the development area using a combination of pedestrian reconnaissance and the excavation of sub-surface shovel probes.  If a heritage resource (e.g. an archaeological site) is discovered in conflict, the site will be tested to determine its size and significance.  If the archaeological site in conflict is determined to have significance, additional mitigation will be required, which likely involves avoidance of the site area or alternatively additional testing and/or excavation.  The results of the field assessment are documented in a HRIA Permit Report, which is then submitted to the HCB for review and approval.  Following the HCB’s approval, the developer (RM) is issued a Heritage Clearance Letter. 

Atlheritage works closely with RMs and developers to ensure regulatory heritage approvals are met well in advance of construction schedules.  If you have any questions about the Heritage review process, a HRIA requirement and/or require a cost estimate to complete your HRIA requirement, please contact Atlheritage (306.242.2822).