Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

$162M highway project through Goldstream park faces objections from First Nations

$162-million plan for 2.6 kilometres of the Malahat corridor within Goldstream Provincial Park was reaffirmed in last month’s provincial budget.

Every Tuesday for a year now, 76-year-old Carl Olsen has stood on the Trans-Canada Highway at Goldstream Provincial Park protesting the province’s plan to widen the roadway.

The Tsartlip First Nation elder believes the project will ­damage the already fragile salmon-spawning waters of the ­Goldstream River and harm a food source First Nations have relied on for centuries. Olsen said that could affect the work of the nearby hatchery which provides salmon eggs and fry to resupply the river and other watersheds on the South Island for salmon recovery

“Someone has to speak for the fish, and for the trees that will come down that protect the river and the salmon,” Olsen said. “I have to remind people and the government that this a protected area.”

Olsen has been on the highway weekly with others since last March. He said he’s prepared to take the province to court, using the Douglas Treaties which outline the rights of First Nations “to hunt and fish and protect the lands as formerly” to stop the project if it moves forward. Under the Douglas Treaties the Goldstream River is protected and First Nations have the right to fish there, but “we also have the right to protect it because it feeds us.”

The $162-million plan to design and build safety and environmental improvements to 2.6 kilometres of the Malahat corridor within Goldstream Provincial Park was reaffirmed in last month’s provincial budget. It was originally announced in 2018 and about $15 million in engineering work and plans have been completed.

The work includes rock cuts and a section that brings highway retaining walls hard against the river and cantilevered extensions that hang over the waterway.

A public engagement period ended in 2020.

Rob Fleming, minister of highways, was not available for an interview on the status of the project or to answer questions about potential environmental impacts. The ministry provided a statement, saying it is consulting with stakeholders, including First Nations, on “feasibility and environmental concerns.”

Tsartlip Chief Don Tom, also the chair of the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council which comprises the Tsartlip and Tseycum First Nations, said the W̱SÁNEĆ Nations are examining the project’s “environmental and cumulative impacts, [as well as] impacts to the Douglas Treaties.”

He said discussions with the province continue, adding that “I admire our community members’ interest and input in this.”

In a post on the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council’s website, the First Nations group said its right to “hunt and fish as formerly” is enshrined in the Douglas Treaties signed between 1850 and 1854. It said that right to defend against development that puts hunting and fishing at risk was upheld by a 1987 B.C. Supreme Court ruling.

The Douglas Treaties stopped a proposal for the Saanichton Marina development originally put forward in 1974 to establish a 1,256 berth marina, administrative building and parking lot right in Saanichton Bay, a traditional food source area of crab and clams for the Tsawout First Nation.

That proposal was denied by the federal and provincial governments after protests and petitions, but a smaller marina proposal was resurrected and conditionally approved in 1985 by three levels of government. Protests followed with Tsawout First Nations member Earl Claxton Jr. diving into the water and clinging to a dredging bucket for more than an hour to stop the development.

In October 1987, after a two-year legal battle, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in favour of the Tsawout First Nation.

In the ruling, the judge said that James Douglas, the Hudson Bay Company’s representative who oversaw the treaties, “implemented a policy to protect the Indians in their right to pursue their traditional economy of hunting and fishing” and concluded “that they had the right to resist … the proposed marina at Saanichton Bay as it would diminish in the extent the fishery contractually reserved to predecessors of the original signatories to the Douglas Treaty.”

Olsen won a Supreme Court case in December 2006 when he and another Tsartlip member, Ivan Morris, were accused of illegally hunting deer using lights at night, commonly referred to as pitlamping, on Crown land near Youbou. The court, in a 4-3 vote, acquitted the men, ruling that their right to hunt with lights is protected by the Douglas Treaties, specifically an 1852 agreement signed by 14 Vancouver Island bands. Though the tools to hunt had evolved, the court decided night hunting was traditional as the Tsartlip had long pots filled with tree pitch to provide light for hunting at night.

The W̱SÁNEĆ Council said the Goldstream River remains an important food source for its members and critical habitat for the thousands of chum, chinook and coho salmon that spawn each year. It noted that chinook salmon are part of a food chain that’s already in critical condition and one of the few sources of food for the endangered southern resident orcas.

For Olsen, the river is worth protecting. “It seems to me that the government is saying reconciliation is all about money, but to me it’s about protecting what we have,” said Olsen. “This river is what we have and worth protecting.”

Olsen said the project will involve cutting down “hundreds of trees,” which he believes will be detrimental for birds and the salmon spawn as the canopies provide shade to keep the waters cool. Major construction so close to the river is also likely to have an impact on spawning beds, he said.

He said the province has provided First Nations with its environmental studies on the project, and First Nations are comparing those with their own views. He said the First Nations response is expected to be complete in August.

The province’s proposed changes along a 1.7-kilometre section of the Trans-Canada will see widening and minor realignments of the road to accommodate installation of 1.5 kilometres of median barriers, wider paved shoulders, roadside barriers and changes to the Finlayson Arm Road intersection with better sight lines, overhead lighting and median-channelled exits.

It includes elements to improve active transportation and the safety and experience for Goldstream Park visitors, such as enhancing and protecting an existing trail overlooking the river parallel to the highway, improved parking and trail network connections, a pedestrian bridge over the Goldstream River and a pedestrian highway crossing structure.

About 600,000 people visit Goldstream Park every year, especially during the summer and fall salmon-spawning months.

The highway would remain one lane in each direction and all work would take place within existing highway right-of-way. No park boundary adjustments are being proposed.

There are plans to install enclosed storm drainage systems with oil-water spill collection and separation tanks through the existing S-curves to the south of the Finlayson Arm Road intersection

The Ministry of Transportation said it is a busy highway and vital corridor for the movement of goods and services, but it is often fraught with delays when collisions occur, and there are few viable alternate routes. It said trucks represent 10% of traffic volume, including dump trucks that facilitate development on the South Island.

The ministry’s most recent traffic data from 2019 shows that in the summer months just over 29,000 vehicles travel Highway 1 through Goldstream Park area every day.

From 2013 to 2017, 45 collisions occurred in the 1.7-kilometre stretch through the park and typical highway closures ranged from 30 minutes to two hours.

About 60% of the Malahat corridor is divided with concrete centre medians. The remaining open areas include Goldstream (1.5 kilomtetres) and the Summit to Bamberton (four kilometres).

Olsen said he is surprised there isn’t a “Plan B” on improving the stretch of road, including lowering speed limits and more enforcement, and other options to move people, such as increasing transit and bringing back rail travel.

“Every week this year, I see a lot of good drivers, but I also see a lot of people in a hurry and a lot of people on cellphones,” he said.

[email protected]

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: [email protected]