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Globe & Mail August 23 2000, Wed. - by Matthew Sekeres

Search for graves holds up ORC sale
Let burial site be, ratepayers group says

Archeologists are to complete the search for unmarked graves today at an Etobicoke cemetery where a controversial proposal to build a crematorium faces opposition.

Two archeologists spent a fourth day yesterday probing an unused portion of the Ontario Hospital Cemetery on the corner of Horner and Evans avenues in south Etobicoke.

The Ontario Realty Corp., the provincial agency that manages the site, hired the archeologists so the sale of the land can proceed after ground-penetrating radar discovered seven "anomalies," which may be graves, in the unused part in December, said Judith Baird, a communications officer for the ORC.

But the search for gravesites has added fuel to the campaign of a residents association, which opposes the sale of the land and the proposed crematorium. The South Etobicoke Residents and Ratepayers Association says the addition of a crematorium will increase pollution in an already polluted area and will devalue neighbourhood real estate.

SERRA has 230 members and has been lobbying against construction of the crematorium. The association presented a 1,400-signature petition to the Etobicoke Community Council in February, said Bruce Keeling, SERRA's chairman.

SERRA says it is now concerned that graves might be disturbed if the burial sites stand in the way of the crematorium.

"You just don't go disturbing graves for the sake of a commercial operation," Mr. Keeling said. "We are certain that if they do find human remains, they shouldn't be disturbed, period."

On Monday, the archeologists found that four of seven anomalies were not graves, said John Hannah, senior archeologist of AFBY Archaeological and Heritage Consultants of Barrie, Ont.

Also Monday, the archeologists began tackling a final area of excavation where three remaining suspected graves remained.

"We have to be able to explain what caused this anomaly before we can make any firm conclusions," Mr. Hannah said.

The archeologists will report the finding so the ORC can make a decision on how to proceed, Ms. Baird said. Moving any graves found is an option, she added.

The land has been owned by the provincial government since 1871 but the ORC has a contract to sell it to George Damiani for $300,000. Mr. Damiani's company, 1385521 Ontario Ltd., plans to build a crematorium on the vacant land in the cemetery's north end.

The property sale caused a stir in the spring as Ontario Liberals made allegations that a 7.5-metre strip of land that provides access to the proposed crematorium site was added to the parcel after the deal was signed.

Citing Mr. Damiani's long-standing connections to the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, the Liberals alleged ministerial interference, a charge that Mr. Damiani and the Tories have strenuously denied.


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