Scouts Canada has closed Camp Byng indefinitely while the organization works on an “operational plan” amidst issues with maintenance and declining use.
“Camp Byng has been struggling with declining use and significant maintenance requirements over the course of many years. Due to this the camp remains closed,” Kayleigh Kanoza, director of change and strategy, told Coast Reporter in an email.
“We continue to work with the property to develop an operational plan that ensures safe, quality programming that meets the needs of our members.”
Surprise to locals
The sprawling Roberts Creek property, located at 2139 Lower Road, is used regularly as a meeting place for the 6th Roberts Creek Scout Group and its closure appears to have taken some local scouts by surprise.
A Nov. 12 6th Roberts Creek Scout Group newsletter notified its readers the camp was “closed until further notice,” and directed Cub Scouts to meet at the Roberts Creek Legion over the winter starting Nov. 28 for its Monday meetings, followed by Cliff Gilker Park or “other outdoor locations” starting in May.
In a Nov. 16 social media post, one parent sought help because the camp had been “recently” closed, with volunteers still searching for venues to host its other meetings. “We are currently conducting meetings for youth… outdoors in the dark cold, rainy weather,” said Jill Ellerton, adding the small group can’t afford most venue rental rates.
Scott Lennox, chair of the Camp Byng Committee, a volunteer group responsible for long-term planning and camp oversight, told Coast Reporter in an email that “it should only be a short term closure,” as the organization works on a business model, “and the camp committee hopes to have it open in the spring.”
Scouts Canada did not provide a closure date or anticipated reopening date to Coast Reporter.
Had been closed during the pandemic
This isn’t the first time the camp has closed in recent years.
Scouts Canada shuttered the camp from March 2020 to late 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lennox announced last November the camp had been approved for a phased reopening, with indoor use permitted by mid-April 2022.
The camp earns some revenue by renting its facilities to third-party users such as school groups. It also seeks donations to assist its volunteer camp committee – “affectionately known as the ‘Byng Gang’” according to its website – which performs most of the maintenance.
Water shutoffs due to leaks
While Scouts Canada did not provide details about revenue or maintenance issues, Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) communication manager Aidan Buckley confirmed there is a “substantial” watermain leak at the property, forcing temporary shutoffs.
“In order to save as much water as possible, while still providing some service to the site, SCRD staff have only provided water during certain daytime hours (usually between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.) over the past few weeks,” he said in a Nov. 21 email.
SCRD staff have been working with the property owner to address the leak, said Buckley.
‘Premier Scout property’
The Scouts Canada camp is described on scoutdocs.ca as the “premier Scout property of the Pacific Coast Council.” It opened in 1922.
The property comprises more than 80 hectares, including 1,200 metres of foreshore, with a BC Assessment value of $16.1 million. Amenities include commercial kitchens, dormitories, a spiritual centre, low-ropes course, archery range and basketball courts.
According to its website, the camp can accommodate 4,000 people and “enables Scouting in BC to continue its long-standing tradition of providing a quality outdoor experience for future generations.”
Ellerton said in the days following the Scouts’ requests for help “Many people have expressed concern both on Facebook and to our leadership personally,” and they are considering “two or three offers” from local businesses and communities for venues.
“We are very grateful for the outpouring of support and offers of help we’ve received,” she said. “After being outside for almost two years due firstly to COVID restrictions and now the closure of Camp Byng we are excited by the prospect of coming in from the cold.”
Camp Byng is one of several properties listed in a real estate dispute between Scouts Canada and Scout Properties (B.C./Yukon).
Scout Properties, a registered charity with a mandate to attain, own and manage property for the use of Scouts Canada, Girl Guides and other groups, is the defendant in a civil claim initiated by Scouts Canada in 2018 and currently before the Supreme Court of BC.
According to a claim summary filed by Scouts Canada, Scout Properties put a storefront property on West Broadway in Vancouver up for sale “without the consent or authorization” of Scouts Canada. The property’s assessed value as of July 1, 2021 is $8.6 million. It was sold in 2020.
Scouts Canada is seeking the proceeds of the sale and “declarations regarding ownership and transfer of legal title of the fee simple and leasehold interest in the other properties,” including Camp Byng, among other relief sought, according to the claim.
An amended notice of civil claim from March 2021 includes a list of dozens of halls and properties owned or leased by Scout Properties. According to that list, Scout Properties is the registered owner of Camp Byng.
In its response, Scout Properties denied the allegations and describes itself as the legal and beneficial owner of all interests in properties where it’s listed as an owner or occupier or lessee.
Scout Canada also claims the properties owned by Scout Properties are held in trust as a bare trustee “for the use and benefit of Scouts Canada,” which Scout Properties denies.
Keith Martin, director and former chair of the board of Scout Properties told Coast Reporter that to the best of his knowledge the closure has nothing to do with the civil claim.
Martin, who formerly sat on the Scouts Canada Board of Governors, said the charity has “only recently been made aware of the decision by Scouts Canada as the tenant operator to close the camp operation there indefinitely.”
“We are obviously interested in ensuring that the property remains open and available to youth going forward and we’re hoping to see some additional information from Scouts Canada sometime in the near future.”
Martin said with the news, Scout Properties also plans to “undertake some deliberations from our side.”
Scout Properties “has absolutely no intention whatsoever, under any circumstance, to place Camp Byng up for sale,” said Martin, who said the charity is interested in ensuring “the property is stewarded for the long haul.”
“We understand the concern the community has at large,” he said. “We’re quite mindful of that at this point in time, but what we’re trying to do right now is take a measured approach to this, and make sure we understand what the facts are, what’s really happening,” with regards to the closure.
The Roberts Creek Official Community Plan states that if Camp Byng ceases to be needed by the operators, the SCRD “should seek to acquire the land for park use.”