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Comment: More discussion needed on future of Dunsmuir trails

University of Victoria president Jamie Cassels’ insistence that the sale of the Dunsmuir Lodge property is a “win-win-win arrangement” (“Dunsmuir property sale will benefit capital region,” comment, Oct. 19) must be refuted.

University of Victoria president Jamie Cassels’ insistence that the sale of the Dunsmuir Lodge property is a “win-win-win arrangement” (“Dunsmuir property sale will benefit capital region,” comment, Oct. 19) must be refuted.

The proposed sale would mean the closure of public trails that have been a community asset for more than 30 years. Neither North Saanich council nor the community at large have been consulted about the future of the trails, despite many requests over the past nine years.

In 1985, UVic and the District of North Saanich jointly authorized public trail access from the Dunsmuir property to John Dean Provincial Park after UVic was allowed to hook up Dunsmuir Lodge to Dean Park’s private sewer system when Dunsmuir’s septic system failed. The original public access sign has been presented to council.

A memorandum of understanding, dated Nov. 12, 1999, was signed by David Strong, then UVic president and vice-chancellor, and Ron Townshend, then North Saanich’s acting mayor, detailing “the role of the university in the development and enhancement of the parks, trail systems and greenways of North Saanich.”

In April 2016, at the Dean Park Estates Community Association annual general meeting, Peter Kuran, president of UVic properties, stated all of the Dunsmuir trails would remain publicly accessible in perpetuity.

On June 28, at a poorly advertised open house, UVic presented an about-turn, with the proposed sale of the land resulting in subsequent closure of all existing trails to the public.

Following a recent survey, conservative estimates show the Dunsmuir trails are used more than 35,000 times each year by local, provincial and international walkers, as well as by Kelset Elementary School students.

The Dunsmuir trail fosters social and educational (physical, natural and cultural) experiences within a natural, safe and accessible environment, enabling an active and healthy lifestyle for the entire community, as promoted by the federal ParticipACTION program.

On Sept. 19, in the face of public opposition, council requested UVic hold a community open house and return with a compromise. The resulting open house on Oct. 20 was anything but clear, presenting misinformation that resulted in more questions than answers. We are still waiting for the compromise.

On Nov. 7, Mayor Alice Finall aired the council’s frustration with UVic’s inappropriate manner and management of the sale, and noted UVic’s written commitment to “partner with the community” remained unfulfilled.

The council remained concerned that expeditious efforts have been made by UVic to push the proposal through without the involvement of all stakeholders and in the process of doing so had created much conflict.

Finall added that true reconciliation requires all parties to work together to find a better solution.

The Dunsmuir property was given to UVic by George Poole, who wished to “see a healthy, vibrant, livable community.” It is imperative that respectful, open discussion among all stakeholders takes place to ensure the Dunsmuir sale benefits all stakeholders and is being disposed of at fair market value per the Ministry of Finance regulations.

Contrary to Cassels’ assertion, this is currently a “win-win-lose” proposal.

Laura Veasey wrote this on behalf of the Friends of the Loop Trail.