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Opportunity – A National Park on Gambier Island
The David Suzuki Foundation has made a long-term commitment to a Howe Sound Campaign. The world-class beauty of the sea-to sky area is extraordinary. The recovery of the sound, founded on industrial site cleanups and returning whales, dolphins, salmon and herring offers an irresistible feel-good narrative.
The Foundation’s goal is to build partnerships to create a balanced and sustainable future for Howe Sound that is built on effective land and marine planning. This future must support tourism and recreation, enhance biodiversity, expand our knowledge and research and foster a vital working partnership with First Nations.
The Foundation has:
- Expanded knowledge through a mapping initiative; created an integrated land and marine ecosystem services study of Howe Sound and launched a socio-economic assessment.
- Convened partners in Howe Sound for an aquatic forum, a science and knowledge holders workshop and a socio-economic forum.
- Engaged audiences with video evenings and panel discussions and supported citizen science and storytelling, under the title ‘The Great Howe Sound Recovery’.
- Partnered with the Squamish Nation on Camp Suzuki: Howe Sound and as co-sponsors of the aquatic forums.
- Worked to meet conservation objectives, particularly through our Gambier Island National Park initiative and by supporting marine planning in Howe Sound.
Our strategic partners include the Squamish Nation, the Sitka Foundation, the United Church and the Vancouver Aquarium.
Stephen Foster is the Howe Sound Campaign Lead for the Foundation and a resident of Bowen Island for 13 years. He has co-conceived and led the park initiative, working closely with Mel Turner. For more than 30 years Mel was a parks planner with BC Parks and was involved in creating 75 parks in the province.
How we got here:
In 2010, Parks Canada led a study to look at the possibility of creating parks near Canada’s three major cities. This helped lead to the creation of the Rouge Valley National Urban Park east of Toronto.
It also led to a new park initiative for Bowen Island. The failure of this effort rested mostly with Bowen’s municipal politics. Unfortunately, it was a bad fit and bad timing. Those involved, however, learned a lot about Parks Canada, community consultation and the challenges for setting up new national parks in Canada.
Relationship of this effort to Gambier Island. The Foundation has been involved in three pivotal events that helped us better understand the importance of Gambier Island in the life of Howe Sound:
- The crown land woodlots. The Foundation regularly updated the Squamish Nation leadership, who then further reached out to the Tsleil-Waututh about the broad concerns and public action being taken to stop the logging of crown lands on Gambier’s woodlots and watershed.
- Halkett Bay Provincial Park boundary extension. The Foundation worked with those leading the effort to extend Halkett Bay Provincial Park’s marine boundary to protect the amazing sponge reef gardens off the southeast corner of Gambier Island.
- Camp Suzuki: Howe Sound. Now entering its third year, Camp Suzuki, based at Camp Fircom on Gambier, trains children (7-14 yrs.) and young adults on environmental awareness and leadership, enhancing local biodiversity and effective activism. We partner with the Squamish Nation and incorporate a strong Indigenous cultural immersion into the program.
The idea to develop a park proposal was born while Stephen and Mel were standing on the government dock, looking up to the Fircom lands.
The park opportunity:
It takes 15 minutes from Horseshoe Bay for the water taxi to arrive at Gambier’s government dock. Walk up the hill and north through the United Church-owned Fircom lands and you enter Halkett Provincial Park. Continuing north, you come to Mt. Arteban and the wetlands and cross the crown lands. Gambier is home to an amazing swath of undeveloped landscape.
The first step Parks Canada takes when considering a new park is to launch a feasibility study, which includes public engagement. Before this step, it’s important to demonstrate that key partners want to join the conversation.
United Church: Given that Fircom is located at a critical public access point, it was important to determine if the United Church wanted to partner to create a new park and allow those arriving on the island to cross their property to access other land. Camp Fircom currently uses only 25% of their land holding for their summer camp and to host year round events. The Foundation engaged with the church in a 14 month consultation to explore options. The church has said it is willing to engage in the feasibility stage.
Squamish Nation: In laying out the initiative to Squamish Nation leaders Chief Ian Campbell and Chief Bill Williams, we learned that the Bowen park concept had been of interest to their nation. They had learned about co-management opportunities and were open to exploratory meetings. Read a copy of their letter of support here.
The Province of B.C.: The Foundation consulted with MLA Jordan Sturdy, who embraced the Gambier park idea fully and wrote a letter of support for entering into an initial round of conversations with Parks Canada. Support has also come from local MLA Nicholas Simons.
Sunshine Coast Regional District: The SCRD, a key regional government, passed the following motion on May 25th: That the SCRD acknowledges the importance of conservation of ecological and culturally significant areas and will respectfully consider the position of First Nations when it becomes known.
And that the SCRD will provide a letter of support to Parks Canada to initiate a feasibility study to consider a new land/marine park on Gambier Island in Howe Sound.
Local Islands Trust Council: The Foundation continues to consult with trustees Kate-Louise Stamford and Dan Rogers. The park proposal is consistent with Gambier’s Official Community Plan.
Government of Canada: The proposal has seen strong support from local MP Pam Goldsmith-Jones. We have also engaged North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson, Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski, and MP John Aldag from Langley-Cloverdale, a former superintendent with Parks Canada.
Parks Canada – Mel and Stephen met with the new park establishment branch of Parks Canada in Ottawa in November 2016 to present and discuss the proposal. The door is open for more discussions.
The Gambier community
Now that the park idea seems viable, it is time for the Gambier Community to consider and discuss. The park opportunity is real, though there is much work to be done. Does the proposal fit? Is this a good use of Gambier’s crown lands? How much land should be included? How much marine protection should be included? How does the Gambier community protect its interests if negotiating with Parks Canada?
Does the Gambier community support the request to Parks Canada to initiate a feasibility study to consider creating a new national park on the lands and in the surrounding waters of Gambier Island? Send us your answer here
This is not a commitment to a park, simply a commitment to explore and discuss the possibility of a park.
We want to hear from you. Please share your thoughts and comments with your neighbours by joining in the online conversation on the Sustainable Howe Sound Facebook group.
For more information or comments please contact Stephen Foster at: firstname.lastname@example.org