A traditional First Nations ceremony and prayer were held this week on Bamfield Main, the road south of Port Alberni where two University of Victoria students died in a bus crash in September.
Premier John Horgan, Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert Dennis and Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser attended. “The Huu-ay-aht are very concerned about the families that lost loved ones,” said Dennis, who has lobbied the province for two decades to have the main road to Bamfield maintained and upgraded.
“We will do whatever we can to support them,” he said. “To us, these people were important and if you go there today, you will see a line of flowers at the site. I want to assure the parents that those two are foremost in our minds.”
First Nations in the area have lost many of their own on the same stretch of road, said Dennis, noting he can think of at least eight. Many more have been injured.
The premier and others were in Anacla, in the Alberni-Clayoquot region, to meet with the Huu-ay-aht to discuss a draft report on the feasibility of upgrades to the road by the Ministry of Transportation. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena did not attend.
Western Forest Products owns the stretch of Bamfield Main where the crash happened. The 78-kilometre road includes 60 kilometres owned by Western Forest Products and 18 owned by Mosaic Forest Management, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations and the ministry, Dennis said. The province provides annual funding, but the forestry companies are responsible for maintenance.
Bamfield Main is the only road for First Nations living in the area and is used by residents, tourists, commercial vehicles and buses transporting students. B.C.’s forestry watchdog has said it’s become a main road, so it could be better overseen by the Transportation Ministry.
The province told the Huu-ay-aht it can’t afford to upgrade the road at this time, said Dennis, but the premier committed the province to playing a role in an “action group” with the Huu-ay-aht and other stakeholders to create a plan for those upgrades.
Dennis said he expects the province will come through and, with possible help from the federal government, the road will be chip-sealed as soon as possible. Horgan was not available to speak to the Times Colonist.
A petition started by Sarah Hunter, a UVic student who was on the bus that crashed, has about 29,000 signatures. The petition calls for the provincial and federal governments to upgrade the logging road immediately.
Until major fixes such as paving and widening are done, large coaches are not appropriate on the narrow, winding road, said Hunter. “The road itself I would deem unfit for mass transportation.”
Since the crash, there has been only one other UVic-sanctioned group excursion to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, a third-year field trip on the last weekend of October. Those students travelled by chartered bus from Victoria to Port Alberni, and from Port Alberni to the research centre by the MV Frances Barkley, a private ferry that provides regular year-round service to Bamfield, said UVic spokesman Paul Marck. The ferry trip takes about three hours.
Denise Helm, UVic’s director of media relations, said Friday the university hired a third party with experience in health and safety investigations to review the university’s policies and procedures related to the September field trip, and to interview those involved with the trip’s logistics.
She said UVic will use its investigation in combination with reports from the RCMP and Transport Canada “to inform decisions for future trips.”
The RCMP says a report from the Vancouver Island Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Service could be finished by the end of next week, and will be sent to the B.C. Coroners Service.