WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW.
The SAQ stoppage of the expansion and modernization of its liquor distribution center was at the request of the Duplessis Orphans and the Mohawk Mothers,l which suspect the presence of graves of native and non-native children. A portion of the SAQ’s land is located on a former cemetery. A meeting is expected to take place between the Crown corporation and the two groups to discuss the setting up of a protocol.
The SAQ suspended the excavation at the request of the Comité des orphelins et orphelines institutionnalisés de Duplessis and Kanien’keha : ka Kahnistensera, a group of aboriginal activists commonly referred to as the “Mohawk Mothers”. In a January 8 letter they requested the crown corporation to suspended the construction so that “basic precautions” can be put in place.The SAQ liquor distribution center and head office is located in the eastern part of Montreal, near the Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine bridge-tunnel.The expansion and automation of the center is scheduled for completion in 2027 and is estimated to cost around $300 million. This includes a new 192,000 sq. ft. building. The SAQ will expand its online offering to 20,000 products, increase warehouse processing speed and offer 24-hour delivery, which is presently not the case.
“…the SAQ warehouses on Rue des Futailles is a former cemetery that once belonged to the Sœurs de la Providence, [Sisters of the Providence]” according to the notice sent to La Presse . “The site served as an informal cemetery for unclaimed bodies of patients who died at Hôpital Saint-Jean-de-Dieu. It’s possible there are burials of anonymous children, or some named from the Duplessis Orphans, and a strong probability that aboriginal children were also buried on the site.”
The letter from the Duplessis Committee and Mohawk Mothers point to a high probability of anonymous burials of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children on the site. Both parties would like to establish an archaeological and forensic protocol with the SAQ to ensure the protection of human remains prior to excavation. They have requested a meeting with the company’s management. The SAQ confirmed that it would like to discuss the next steps with both groups. “Upon receipt of [the] letter [from the Duplessis Orphans and Mohawk Mothers], SAQ decided not to undertake excavation on the proposed expansion, while establishing a plan of action.”
For the moment, no meeting date has been set.”Official exhumation measures were […] undertaken on this property in the late 1960s, before it was owned by the SAQ,” the Crown corporation stated in an official statement by email to La Presse.
BY THE BOOK.
According to anthropologist, Philippe Blouin, who works closely with the Mohawk Mothers and acts as their French interpreter, the signatories were only notified of the work stoppage late on Friday February 2nd, a few hours after La Presse had questioned the SAQ about the matter. “It was registered as a cemetery,” says Blouin, who is also a lecturer and doctoral candidate in anthropology at McGill University. “Unofficially, it was called the “pigsty cemetery”. Unclaimed bodies, mostly of children who were at Saint-Jean-de-Dieu, were buried there. Many of the bodies were exhumed and transported to Saint-François-d’Assise Cemetery. By accident, in 1999 during the expansion projects [of the SAQ] some bones were found.”
Their letter stated, “As representatives of the Duplessis orphan and Mohawk communities, we do not wish to see such accidental discoveries happen again,” reads the letter. In 1999 and today, the SAQ asserts that the were “animal remains”.
Regarding the distribution center, Hervé Bertrand, president of the committee representing the Duplessis orphans, is convinced that human bones were involved. If the SAQ won’t cooperate, he won’t hesitate to go to court, he told La Presse.
The SAQ case is not the only one of interest to the aboriginal group, whose role in Mohawk law is to ensure the preservation of traditional territory. The Mohawk Mothers have gone to Quebec Superior Court and forced a halt to the work planned at the Royal Victoria Hospital for McGill University to expand its campus. The Mohawk Mothers fear that excavation work will destroy possible native burials and clandestine graves. In October the Superior Court forced McGill University and the Société québécoise des infrastructures (SQI) to reinstate the Panel of Expert Archaeologists to carry out proper excavations. A few weeks ago the SQI and the university appealed the ruling. The appeal will be heard on June 11.