Advocate groups concerned new school will be built on burial ground
A “state of the art” new high school is being built in New Westminster, but some Chinese and First Nations advocate groups are concerned it will be built on burial ground for a second time.
The new school, which will accommodate 1,900 students grades 9 to12, will be built on the same property as the current one – but the Canadians for Reconciliation Society says that’s a problem.
The older school was constructed in 1949, and some of it sits on top of land used as burials ground for Chinese and Japanese immigrants, as well as Sikhs and Aboriginal peoples.
“What we don’t understand is why they would build on top of a cemetery again,” said Bill Chu, spokesperson of the Canadians for Reconciliation Society. “They have made a mistake once, making it twice doesn’t make it right.”
Yet the school needs to be rebuilt: the building contains asbestos, lead paint and occasional rodent infestations, and is considered unsafe. Parents, teachers, and the school board have lobbied for a new school for more than a decade.
When the provincial government announced plans for the $106.5 million school, they assured concerned groups the new school would not encroach on burial grounds.
“All work within the designated heritage areas will be monitored by an archeologist to ensure the heritage requirements are met and any historic artifacts are appropriately recorded,” a statement from the Ministry of Education read.
The school board echoed the promise on Saturday.
“The entire site was not a cemetery or burial areas, so what we are doing is confirming the areas that were used as burial grounds,” said Pat Duncan, superintendent of the New Westminster School District. “And once we have confirmed that, we will not be building on those areas. It’s a large site."
But Bill Chu is still concerned. He says there’s already confusion over the exact location of the burial grounds due to contradictory maps – and the school district has admitted the one used by the province was incorrect.
“They allow a school to be built, and now they allow another reconstruction to happen,” said Chu. “I don’t have confidence in the government at this point.”
The school district says it will memorialize the area where it finds burial grounds on the property, and the new school will be built around those culturally sensitive areas.
Construction is set to begin in 2017, and the new school is scheduled to open in 2019.
With files from CTV Vancouver’s Scott Hurst