Grace Islet home built on sacred First Nations burial ground to be torn down

WATCH: The discovery of an ancient First Nations burial site has prompted the removal of an Alberta businessman’s retirement home, currently under construction, from an islet in the Gulf Islands. Kylie Stanton has the story.

It’s a small development that’s sparked huge controversy and now it’s set to come down.

A home built on a sacred First Nations burial site near Salt Spring Island will be demolished after the owner cut a deal with the government.

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A private landowner obtained the necessary permits last fall and began building a home on Grace Islet, where at least 16 cairns have been discovered.

Since construction began, the community has rallied with First Nations to call for the government to put a stop to the project.

That didn’t happen until December and while the deal was established, construction workers continued to show up.

“I sat here day after day and the house got bigger and bigger,” said Gordon Murphy. “It was really difficult.”

But today a new crew arrived.

“It’s really good to see some of the walls starting to come down,” said Jean Wilkinson.

“We’ve always been asking for that from the beginning, that it not just stop but that it be restored to the burial ground that it was before,” said Phil Vernon of Salt Spring Islanders for Justice and Reconciliation.

It comes at a price. The government is covering the majority of the estimated $300,000 that’s needed to decommission and deconstruct the house. Then there’s the $5.45 million paid to the landowner in order to transfer the islet to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, a price estimated to be four times above market value.

The Minister of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources was not available for comment, but in a statement acknowledges “it’s a significant amount,” going on to say “what was also very significant were the First Nations’ archaeological and cultural interests.”

-With files from Kylie Stanton

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