Huu-ay-aht land deal gives new life to Bamfield

The Huu-ay-aht First Nation has bought 11 parcels of property at Bamfield that include motels, gas stations, houses and an island it previously owned.

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“It’s a big day,” said Huu-ay-aht elected Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr.

“We are a proud nation, we’re a proud people.”

The First Nation agreed not to disclose the other parties in the sale nor will it reveal the purchase price or what it will spend to renovate the existing businesses, Dennis said.

“We’ll get busy with plans but our first objective is to meet with the Bamfield community and celebrate with them and report to them the acquisition of the properties — and what our plans are — and work together with them to develop an economic plan for the region,” Dennis said.

“We’ve already allocated a substantial amount of funds to assist in the development of the properties and the businesses,” Dennis said. A first step will be to determine each property’s potential.

The First Nation plans to “breathe new life” into the properties — which include the Kingfisher Lodge and Marina, and Bamfield Trails Motel.

It will give the businesses a facelift to generate more jobs for their people and bring in more money from the small sport tourism community, Dennis said.

Over the years, residents have watched businesses close and the properties that once housed them fall into disrepair.

The properties will take on more of the Huu-ay-aht culture, incorporating the First Nation’s art, for example, Dennis said.

The First Nation has a development company to help with planning.

Huu-ay-aht has been investigating the investment of the properties since the spring of 2015, according to a press release.

“Our executive council went to the Huu-ay-aht citizens to seek their approval to acquire these lands,” Dennis said.

Bamfield, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is a small community divided by Bamfield Inlet. It is surrounded by Crown land and is at the head of the West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim National Park.

Some of the lands in Bamfield were occupied by the Huu-ay-aht for centuries, Dennis said. Bamfield borders the Huu-ay-aht’s traditional territories. Europeans settled in Bamfield in the late 1800s.

Many Huu-ay-aht now live in Anacla, about five kilometres away.

The purchase is expected to draw many Huu-ay-aht from near and far back to Bamfield as a place to work and live, Dennis said.

The traditional treaty lands bordering Bamfield are governed by the Huu-ay-aht but the purchased lands are under the jurisdiction of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District.

The most culturally significant parcel in the purchase is Rance Island, “sold to the first white man, Eddie Banfield … in about 1859,” Dennis said. William Eddy Banfield, spelled with an “n,” was the first government agent of the area.

“It’s good to be getting the land back, but we had to pay a lot more for it than the blankets and beads in those days,” Dennis said.

The Huu-ay-aht are considering asking the province to include Rance Island as part of its treaty lands, Dennis said.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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