A deal that would see a large parcel of land in North Saanich sold to the Pauquachin First Nation is a step closer to reality.
The District of North Saanich has agreed to subdivide the 75-acre property surrounding a 25-acre parcel that is currently home to the former Dunsmuir Lodge. Owned by the University of Victoria, the entire 100 acres are in the process of being sold — the smaller portion to Ontario-based Homewood Health for an addictions and mental health facility and the rest to the local indigenous community.
The proposed sale had prompted controversy in North Saanich over the loss of public access to trails and concerns over losing the wooded area to development by the First Nation. Pauquachin elected Chief Rebecca Harris has stated they are buying the land on behalf of other WSANEC nations and have no plans to develop the property. They plan to preserve it for spiritual and cultural use and have agreed to a covenant with the District of North Saanich to keep it that way.
Under the terms of the pending deal, the land would remain private property and not be rolled into the Pauquachin’s reserve boundaries.
North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall says a majority of council voted recently to subdivide the land and rezone the 25-acre portion to accommodate the health care facility.
The vote came after a well-attended public hearing that saw the University’s plans slightly updated to accommodate council’s request to widen proposed replacement trails. People who have been using trails on UVic property for around 30 years, are expected to lose most of the existing trails once the Pauquachin buy the land and restrict access to indigenous-led educational tours. UVic has pledged to replace those trails with an east-west connector route and a trail running parallel to the Homewood Health access road and parking lot. The mayor noted that the District is still talking with UVic, the Frst Nation and the Capital Regional District over right-of-way access to existing utility lines on the property.
Finall said council has expressed confidence in the Pauquachin’s commitment to keep the land as-is — despite the fact that even with a covenant, the federal government could overrule it and make the land part of the reserve system.
“You can’t be absolutely certain,” Finall said, “but there were some strong statements by the Pauquachin and other First Nations that they expect their undertaking to be adhered to.”
Finall added the pending sale represents a big change in the community. She reiterated a concern she and other councillors had over the lack of consultation with the District by UVic throughout the process.
Council’s decision has been sent to the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure for review. It’s a required step under current municipal legislation. Once their approved has been given, the District can finalize the land subdivision and rezoning.