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Comment: Dunsmuir property sale will benefit capital region

The University of Victoria’s decision to sell the former Dunsmuir Lodge property in the District of North Saanich has been a local topic of discussion over the past few months.

The University of Victoria’s decision to sell the former Dunsmuir Lodge property in the District of North Saanich has been a local topic of discussion over the past few months. I want to outline some of the benefits of the arrangements that UVic has brokered for the future of the property.

In 1985, the lodge and surrounding 100 acres were donated to the university by the late George Poole. Terms of the gift state that it was made for the benefit of the university, that the operation of the facility was not to be a liability and that the property could be sold after four years if it became a financial burden to UVic.

In 2008, after more than 20 years of operation, UVic made the difficult decision to close the facility due to decreased use, the significant future investments required to upgrade the property and high annual maintenance costs. The lodge has been vacant for the past seven years.

Given those circumstances, UVic must sell the building and lands in order to uphold its academic mission. The pending sales agreements for the property provide substantial benefits for the community, as well as the parties involved.

UVic has a tentative deal with Homewood Health to return the lodge and surrounding 25 acres of land to its original use as an addictions and mental-health treatment centre. We have also reached agreement on essential terms with the Pauquachin First Nation for the remaining 75 acres of woodland, part of the traditional lands they have occupied for thousands of years. Proceeds from these two sales will put us in an improved position to take on much-needed campus projects.

The proposed terms of sale will create many benefits for the Greater Victoria community. The arrangements will bring another greatly needed mental-health service provider to our region, and enhance the prospects for collaborative research into mental health and addictions. It is also another opportunity to realize UVic’s commitment to reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous peoples, as the property has historical, spiritual and cultural significance for the Pauquachin and surrounding First Nations.

In addition, there will be new, permanent, publicly accessible and dedicated trails providing continued access to John Dean Provincial Park for residents in Dean Park Estates and the broader community. The sale agreements will also bring local employment and education opportunities, and generate new property-tax revenue for North Saanich.

This win-win-win arrangement requires approvals for subdivision and rezoning of the property. Some area residents have expressed concern that they will lose access to the existing trails on the property that run through the land that the Pauquachin are negotiating to purchase. It’s important to note that the public access to these trails on private property has been provided over the years by the university while it owned the land and while that land was not required for university purposes.

Still, we are mindful of community attachment to the property and have worked with both Homewood Health and the Pauquachin First Nation to develop a plan for new, relocated public trails, paid for by UVic. Unlike the current trails, the new trails will provide permanent public access across the property, while respecting the spiritual and cultural nature of the lands.

Mount Newton, where Dunsmuir Lodge is situated, is known as LÁU,WELNEW in the SENCOTEN language, meaning “place of refuge.” The entire mountain is of deep cultural significance, representing a sacred heritage for First Nations people who have lived on this traditional land for countless generations.

The existing trails are incompatible with the proposed ownership arrangements and the way in which the Pauquachin plan to steward this portion of the property. The Pauquachin, however, have offered to allow guided education walks for local school children. Further, the Pauquachin have agreed to enter into a non-development agreement for the property subject to the nation’s ability to meet its cultural and spiritual needs on the land.

The creation of new trails, and the preservation of the property in its natural state, is a substantial public benefit.

The proposed arrangements support the interests and aspirations of B.C.’s First Peoples, create certainty over the future of the land, and offer newly assured benefits for the residents and the District of North Saanich. We hope that the local community will work with us to secure the future of this special property.

Learn more about these plans for Dunsmuir Lodge and Lands at a UVic-sponsored Open House on Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Shoal Centre, 10030 Resthaven Dr., Sidney. For more information, see

Jamie Cassels, QC, is the president and vice-chancellor of the University of Victoria.