A group that wants to create a national park and marine conservation area on the Sunshine Coast is hoping the Sechelt Nation will reconsider backing the proposal, after chief and council rejected it more than a year ago.
“Without the Band, this isn’t going anywhere,” proponent Joe Harrison told Coast Reporter in an Aug. 9 interview. “We’re well aware that we can’t move without them.”
Harrison, a Pender Harbour resident who chairs the Jervis Fiordland Wilderness Committee, said the group of about 12 active members grew out of the Friends of Caren, which successfully lobbied in the 1990s for the establishment of Spipiyus Provincial Park, north of Halfmoon Bay.
The proposed national park would cover more than 3,000 square kilometres of mostly provincial Crown land, extending north from the middle of the Sechelt Peninsula to Princess Louisa Inlet, dubbed “the gem attraction of British Columbia’s coastal mountains” in the group’s six-page proposal, authored by Harrison and Paul H. Jones.
The park and marine conservation area would take in Narrows Inlet and most of Jervis, Sechelt and Salmon inlets.
One option would also include Squamish as an access point to the region, following a logging road cut along the traditional shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation route from the head of Jervis Inlet, possibly with the aid of gondola systems where no road access would be available.
Including Squamish “would open up the world famous wonders of Princess Louisa Inlet to international travellers on day trips from Whistler,” the proposal said. “Returning to Vancouver via charter boat on a circle tour of the fiords with an overnight in Sechelt and back to Vancouver by BC Ferries would be among the top visitor experiences in Canada.”
The draw for either option would be “the size and character of the mountains, snowfields and fiord-like inlets leading to the open seas,” said the proposal, estimating that tourism in the region could triple.
“Two-thirds of the SCRD lies above a thousand metres. It’s a vast area that we’re not really getting full advantage of,” Harrison said. “Essentially we’re looking at the protection of resources, with an eye on the economy.”
The proposal speaks repeatedly of the need to preserve First Nation sites and culture, suggesting a Coast Salish museum could be located in Sechelt and modelled after the world-class facility in Skidegate on Haida Gwai.
The shíshálh Nation would have “authority, responsibility and control of cultural excursions,” with a “major say” in choosing routes and cultural sites, and would benefit by staffing park facilities and serving as guides.
Band Elders, according to the group, have responded positively to the idea.
“We see it as a win-win for economic development, both for the Band and for people on the Coast,” Harrison said. “It would allow a lot of local people to make a living.”
However, when the park was proposed to the shíshálh Nation council about one and a half years ago, “they weren’t interested at that point,” Harrison said. “The Band has not been receptive to a national park idea because they see it as getting in the way of their land claims process.”
Harrison said he is hoping the shíshálh Nation’s focus on economic development during the past 18 months will prompt chief and council to take a second look.
“We’ll re-approach the Band and see,” he said, adding that the proposal could be retooled as a provincial park, a joint venture, or be integrated into the shíshálh Nation’s land claims process.
“Not much can be done without their involvement, that’s for sure,” he said.
The group also intends to present the park proposal to the Sunshine Coast Regional District board in the fall.