Questions and answers about the archaeological excavation of the Baker and Wyndham parking lots

Why can’t the Baker and Wyndham parking lot closures wait until after Christmas?

We sincerely appreciate the situation our small businesses are in, and that timing for changes to parking are not ideal.

There’s ample parking available for downtown visitors in the City’s four other parking lots: the East, West and Market Parkades and the Macdonell Street lot. There’s also still free two-hour on-street parking throughout the downtown Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and no limit on Sunday.

The work the Province requires us to do for the archaeological clearance of the site requires a mechanical excavation of the entire area to identify and remove any artefacts or remains. The ground is frozen in January, likely covered in snow, so we’re unable to do this critical work then.

We also can’t wait for next spring as we have agreements with Windmill Development that we need to honour. We already delayed closure of the lot for this work, and we committed to having the site ready for construction to begin in spring.

Why can’t you keep some of the lot open?

We need to excavate the whole lot, and that means removing the paved surface. While we excavate one area, the other areas will be used for equipment, staging and workspace. Once excavated, the lot isn’t safe for driving and parking.

The Wyndham lot wasn’t part of the burying ground so why can’t that stay open?

While the Wyndham Street lot was not part of the public burying grounds, we have to excavate the entire redevelopment site to find and remove any artefacts as well as human remains.

Why will the archaeological work take three months?

The nature of archaeological investigations makes the time that’s required to complete the work uncertain. This work may not take three months, but if we find any artefacts or remains, work needs to pause until these items can be documented and removed, then the site needs to be cleared by the Province before work can resume. This needs to happen each time something is found. While there’s a chance we won’t find anything, the history of the site and past discoveries suggest that more finds are likely.

The other factor that affects timing for this work is weather. Weather that affects excavation activities would require the work to be paused.

Why do you have to do this work at all?

The Baker District redevelopment site served as a public burying ground from 1827 to 1879. Before any construction for the redevelopment begins, the Province requires us to obtain archaeological clearance. Archaeological clearance requires mechanical excavation of the site to ensure any buried artifacts or human remains are properly documented, removed and, in the case of human remains, reinterred.

What are you doing to help downtown businesses through this closure?

We’ve been supporting our local businesses, including those downtown, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on we paused business licence renewals and made Transit and downtown parking free. For the past two summers we’ve redirected resources and sourced funding to run a program for seasonal patios which included road closures in the downtown core. The City’s Tourism Recovery Fund supported recovery initiatives for over 30 businesses and organizations in the downtown core, many creating or enhancing patio spaces for the seasonal program.

We launched Guelph Shops, a program aimed at encouraging people who live and work in Guelph to shop in Guelph and help the businesses that are the economic backbone of our community. Guelph Shops includes spotlight profiles for businesses and promotions paid for by the City. Guelph Shops will continue to promote local shopping and spending, especially for the holidays with increased promotion planned, including local business feature videos.

We’re also promoting tourism in Guelph. See you in Guelph is a promotion that offers a $100 Visa gift card to anyone booking two-night stays. The hope is that people will use these gift cards locally for dining and shopping, and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario reports that, on average, customers using gift cards spend one to six times the value of the gift card. More opportunities for Guelph tourism businesses and organizations, including those downtown, are going to be announced soon.

We’ll continue to advocate for and find funding and other opportunities to help businesses recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.