Federal Pickering Lands: The Solid Archaeological Knowledge Base

By Ted Nickerson,

Without question, meaningful and respectful consultation with First Nations and Metis Nations will be an essential component of any development on these lands. The great work already done by Transport Canada and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) provides a solid base for these consultations similar to the Seaton consultations.

In-depth archaeological knowledge of the federal Pickering lands will be a fundamental input to those consultations.  The work of other organizations and consultants on these and adjacent lands have placed the new airport in a great position to move forward.

In the early 2000s period, two significant projects were underway in north Pickering, each with major archaeological components.  The GTAA was engaged by Transport Canada to develop the Pickering Airport Draft Plan.  Simultaneously, the Master Environmental Serving Plan (MESP) for the new Seaton community, immediately south of the airport lands, was underway.

The GTAA-commissioned work resulted in two important documents:

  • The Archaeological Master Plan, and
  • Stage One Archeological Assessment of the Pickering Airport Lands”, June 2004

Unfortunately, the master plan has not been made available to the public.  Fortunately, the Stage One assessment has been obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

The Seaton Community MESP initiative has also produced two important outcomes:

  • Stage 1 and Stage 2 archaeological assessments report, and
  • A successful First Nations and Metis Nation consultation process.

The available reports for both initiatives address the history of the broader north Pickering area.  The reports are consistent and complementary.  Both reports are very detailed.

In particular, the Stage 1 assessment for the federal Pickering lands demonstrates significant investigations took place and identifies that there are 136 archaeological sites on these lands.  Now, 136 sounds like a huge number of sites until you understand what constitutes a site.  This report provides a list of those sites.  Ten (10) are significant archaeological sites, specifically identified as “Early, Middle or Late Iroquoian Villages”.   The most famous of these is the Draper site.

Figure 1: Iroquoian Villages on the Pickering Airport Lands As Originally Assembled

Image Source: “Stage One Archeological Assessment of the Pickering Airport Lands”, June 2004

Seventy-five (75) of the 136 sites are called “Findspots”, simply a place where an object has been found.  Each findspot could be a place where a single item has been found, or an area of a few hundred square meters that has been surveyed and multiple items recovered.

Confirmation would require access to the restricted detailed mapping of the sites, but it appears that three of the Iroquoian villages and at least half of all archaeological sites are now in Rouge National Urban Park stemming from the federal government’s dedication of airport lands to creation of the park.  As such, these sites are now protected, and economic development of the retained federal airport lands will not disturb them.

Importantly, it also appears that development of the airport precinct and its associated infrastructure including runways, taxiways, terminal and other structures will not impact any key sites identified in the GTAA-commissioned Stage 1 archaeological assessment.

This Stage 1 report further demonstrates how extensive its work was by including a bibliography listing the more than 150 reports and archaeological studies undertaken on these lands.

Taken in total, there is an absolute rock-solid foundation of archaeological information on which to commence the required and final assessments of the federal Pickering lands.

There is much to be learned from the First Nations and Metis Nation consultation process followed for the Seaton Community MESP.  It provides an excellent building block for future consultations and focused future studies.

For the Seaton Community, where possible, it was decided to include archaeological sites within the Seaton natural heritage system.  Similar action could be extended to the federal Pickering lands as well.  For instance, the Draper site is in a natural heritage area.  It will not be impacted by economic development, access to it will not be restricted by any development, yet it can remain a No-Touch area.

Directed by the Huron Wendat First Nation, the Founding First Nations Circle was formed as the key element of the consultation process.  The consultation process included at least 9 First Nations and the Metis Nation and was very successful.

While it did have some objectors, leading to a provincial Superior Court case, it clearly identified those First Nations with the greatest connection to the lands.  The Court case ruled that the Huron-Wendat First Nation has the greatest cultural affiliation to the Seaton area lands., and that the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation also warranted priority status since they are the First Nation closest to the lands.

The Huron Wendat and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nations should hold the same priority status for the federal Pickering lands.  And, of course, the other First Nations should participate in the consultation process.

Going forward for the federal Pickering lands, it has to be recognized that things have changed since the GTAA -commissioned study was published back in 2004 i.e. possibly new standards and requirements for executing archaeological surveys, key leaderships, and the relationship between the First Nations and governments.


Acknowledging these changes, key actions should include:

  • Adopting, and if necessary, improving, the consultation process employed in the Seaton Community MESP,
  • Accessing the GTAA-commissioned Archaeological Master Plan and the Stage One Assessment (full details) as input to,
  • Completing a now more focused Stage 2 Archaeological Assessment and the final Archaeological Master plan for the federal lands retained for economic development.

By leveraging the previous archaeological efforts in north Pickering, the next and final stages of the archaeological work for the federal Pickering lands is well positioned for timely success.



  • Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Divisional Court, Case File 285/06
  • “Stage 1 Archaeological Assessment (Background Study and Property Assessment) and Stage 2 Archaeological Assessment (Property Assessment)”, Seaton Community MESP, June 11, 2012, Archaeological Services Inc.

The following archaeological studies were commissioned by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority as part of the Pickering Airport Draft Plan (2004) project.  These studies are not available to the public.

  • Archaeological Master Plan
  • Stage One Archeological Assessment of the Pickering Airport Lands”, June 2004, The Land Archaeology Inc.