Royal Roads area users fear loss of forested land

The green space surrounding Royal Roads University is a well-used recreational spot, and those taking advantage of it Tuesday afternoon hope its character is retained.

The Department of National Defence, which owns the property, is preparing to dispose of it — with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations a possible part of a future deal. Both have expressed an interest in the property and identified it as a core part of their claimed traditional territories, DND spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said.

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David Hacking and his partner, Diane, who recently moved from Lake Cowichan, walk their dog Ripster there three times a week.

“The size means you can have an hour-long walk without seeing the road,” David said.

Diane said they love the size of the trees, the pristine nature, the number of path, the accessibility of the area and the friendliness of other users.

She hopes a housing development won’t replace the forest.

“[Treaties] can be done extremely well, but it’s hard to know until the writing’s on the paper, exactly what will transpire,” she said.

The land once belonged to James Dunsmuir, who purchased it in 1907 and commissioned the construction of Hatley Castle as a place to raise his children, entertain guests and retire.

A military training facility was established in 1940 and functioned under various names until 1995, when the final class of students graduated from Royal Roads Military College.

Royal Roads University began operating the same year and just in excess of 55 hectares were turned over to the province.

In 1995, a rumour that the federal government was about to approve the construction of up to 8,000 residences on the property sparked protests.

Although federal representatives denied any such plans, a diverse group of professors, environmentalists and area politicians hosted a march and rally to protect the land, saying it has one of the last remaining stands of old-growth forests in the region and borders the sensitive Esquimalt Lagoon ecosystem.

Three protesters barricaded themselves in an office at Hatley Castle, vowing to remain until “politicians recognized their greed was hurting people.” They were removed two-and-a-half hours later by police discharging pepper spray into the air.

Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton said Tuesday the property remains a favourite green space for community members.

The city is not involved in negotiations about the future of the land.

“Change to the land over all these years has been very incremental. Back in the day when I was a kid in Colwood, you couldn’t see any houses or anything there, it was just all forest lands. Now you can see some of the housing that’s been put up over the years. I’m hoping we can keep some of that ambience,” Hamilton said.

“We’re certainly open to working with [DND or the First Nations] and bringing forward any ideas that we can possibly help out with to ensure we get a great balance that preserves the integrity of the land.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

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