The Juan de Fuca trail will pass for the first time through public land, thanks to a recent purchase of 99 hectares of private land by the province.
The trail system did weave through the lands of Ender IIkay, a developer who bought seven parcels of land for a proposed 200-cabin vacation resort several years ago that never got built due to strong public opposition.
In this recent purchase, the province got three parcels from Ilkay, while the Pacheedaht First Nation purchased the other three, leaving just one in Ilkay’s ownership.
Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad noted, this is a “win-win” for British Columbians as the land buy allows the province to bring the entire Juan de Fuca Marine Trail into the B.C. Parks system, as well as advance treaty negotiations with the Pacheedaht First Nation.
“Purchasing these lands secures public access to an important and popular wilderness trail on southern Vancouver Island and goes a long way to advance treaty negotiations with Pacheedaht First Nation,” he said.
Before the purchase, the marine trail and its service access roads crossed private property at four locations. As such, Rustad pointed out the province has started the process of designating those sections of trail as provincial parkland.
Still, much remains unclear as to the sudden nature of the purchase and what exactly will happen with those pieces of land, regardless of whose hands they’re in, said Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan.
“What troubles me about this is that once again there was no consultation, no discussion, the province again making decisions without getting a good grasp to what the consequences are for the community,” Horgan said, adding this goes back 10 years ago when the province removed tree farm licenses and a similar scenario of expanding the park system along the West Coast was considered, but yet no action was taken.
“We finally got to where we needed to be, but I’m wondering how much it ended up costing us in the end, and how much distress has the community been put through, whether they be First Nations or non-First Nations,” he said.
The parcels of land, totalling more than 500 hectares, were bought by Ilkay nearly 10 years ago from Western Forest Products after the province broke up the tree farm licence, with hopes of turning some of the area into a cabin vacation getaway. In 2007, the Capital Regional District board rejected Ilkay’s application, leaving the area in political limbo for years.
Horgan said that from a from a provincial perspective, the province “created a firestorm” on the West Coast of the Island when it broke up the tree farm license without talking to anybody about it.
“And here we are, almost a decade later, they’re trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”
Some good news though, said Horgan, is the expansion of the famous marine trail, and that the Pacheedaht are getting access to more resources, though he wonders why this took so long and why all the secrecy involving the process.
“It was a mess from the start. They could have made this such a positive thing for the First Nations, for the community, and we’re still guessing. That to me is bordering on sad, if not pathetic,” Horgan said.
Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director Mike Hicks expressed a similar feeling of confusion over the matter, though he expressed curious optimism about what could be in store for the newly acquired land.
“I think it’s wonderful the Pacheedaht are getting closer to negotiating their treaty and getting this land, and wait to see what they want to do with it,” Hicks said.
“I would rather the Pacheedaht own this land than be in the hands of foreign ownership.”
It’s unclear what the Pacheedaht will do with the land, whether it will be used for commercial development such as mining or logging, or park land.
The Pacheedaht First Nation spokesperson was not available for comment.