Heritage sites: Don’t let the past come back to bite you

Did you know ancient Canadian artifacts from thousands of years ago recovered from the Fraser Valley are on display at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa?  In fact, there are over 50,000 known archaeological sites in British Columbia alone, that may be as much as 14,000 years old, including stone carvings, remains of ancient houses and campsites, tools, masks, shell middens and petroglyphs.

REALTORS® need to be aware that properties where such artifacts exist are automatically protected under the provincial Heritage Conservation Act, and that damage of any kind to an archaeological site without a permit is punishable by law including fines and even imprisonment.

As well, property owners should disclose any known protected sites in the Property Disclosure Statement.

So, how do you identify such sites and how do you advise your clients who may own such a property or wish to purchase one?

Know the law

Heritage sites are automatically protected in the following circumstances:

  • If they are burial places that include rock art and places with physical evidence of human use or occupation prior to 1846.
  • Even if the site has not yet been identified and recorded; the property owner is responsible to determine whether the property contains an archaeological site.
  • If they are on Crown land, or when the private property is not noted on title.
  • If the property is contained within the boundaries of an already protected archaeological site.

Advise your clients

REALTORS® are advised to inform their clients that there are potentially considerable costs and limitations of developing property where heritage sites exist. Whether the property value will be affected is difficult to determine–the value of the heritage and whether it impacts on the plus or the minus side will depend on various factors.

The Real Estate Council of BC (RECBC) explains some implications of the Heritage Conservation Act for licensees in the Professional Standards Manual (3. Acting for Buyers):

“While the intent of the Heritage Conservation Act with respect to archaeological sites is to balance a respect for heritage and a property owner’s right to develop, some private landowners may face costly archaeological studies and/or limited use of their land.”

“What significance does this have for licensees? Based on court decisions in similar situations, it is likely that a court would find a licensee has a duty to know whether there are archaeologically sensitive areas in the community in which they work and, if so, whether a search for archaeological sites may provide necessary information for a seller or a buyer.”

Professional Standards Manual

Keep it confidential

Someone representing a property owner (private or commercial) such as a Realtor, lawyer, consultant, contractor, engineer or architect, can request archaeological information about a property. However, the information they collect may only be shared with that client and the property owner and their agents. This is because artifacts from heritage sites are sometimes looted or vandalized.

Do your research

Because archaeological sites are not registered on land title certificates, Realtors can check the Provincial Archaeological Site Inventory to determine if there is a record of a protected site on a specific property.

The Archaeology Branch website contains information on the Heritage Conservation Act, and links to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development website where you can fill out a Data Request Form about specific sites and obtain a map that identifies registered sites in specific regions of the province.

If you’re in a hurry

Most requests for information from the Ministry about a specific site can be answered within a few days. But more detailed inquiries may require up to two weeks, with the following stipulation:

“If requests are time sensitive, please include the information in the request and the ministry staff will aim to respond as quickly as possible. In addition, professional consulting archaeologists have access to the provincial inventory and can provide a fee for service, which may be necessary for large or complicated sites.”

Get it in writing

The Professional Standards Manual makes the following suggestion for licensees:

“A prudent licensee working with a buyer who becomes interested in a particular property will want to determine if the proposed use or redevelopment of that property will result in ground alteration that might be affected by Heritage Conservation Act. If the buyer does intend to alter the use, the following clause should be incorporated into the Contract of Purchase and Sale, for example:

Sample: Heritage Conservation Act Clause

Subject to the Buyer satisfying himself/herself on or before(date) regarding the potential effect of the Heritage Conservation Act on the use and/or development of the property. This condition is for the sole benefit of the Buyer.

Property Disclosure Statement

You may be aware that heritage site designation is included in the Property Disclosure Statement for residential properties under 4. General. C.

However, this disclaimer should not be confused with one’s obligations under provincial law. In other words, checking this box is a statement for the real estate transaction, not for absolving anyone who ignores the Heritage Conservation Act. .

A brochure entitled ‘If you are PLANNING to develop or renovate your property, please help to protect BC’s archaeological sites’ is available for download.

Contact the Archaeology Branch by email at ArchDataRequest@gov.bc.ca, or by phone at 250-953-3334.