Thursday, 13 February 2014

Comment: Dunsmuir Lodge lands deserve to be parkland

Andrew Mitchell / Times Colonist
February 13, 2014 03:55 PM
Dunsmuir Lodge, situated on Mount Newton on the Saanich Peninsula, borders on John Dean Provincial Park and the Pauquachin First Nation reserve. The 40-hectare forest and lodge was a gift to the University of Victoria in 1985. The University operated the lodge as a conference and educational centre until 2009.

When the university ceased to operate the lodge in 2009, there was considerable public interest in the future of the property. In 2010, the university gave the Pauquachin First Nation an exclusive option to purchase the property until May 2011. The University of Victoria has not sold the property.

It is time to renew public debate on the Dunsmuir Lodge property. The land and lodge were a gift to a public institution. The University of Victoria needs the approval of the minister of Advanced Education under Section 50 of the B.C. University Act to sell the property. The property is already within the public domain.

It is perhaps a little ironic that the University of Victoria chose to name the property after the Dunsmuir family. While the Dunsmuir family is remembered for the construction of castles in Victoria, another part of the family legacy has a bearing on the disposition of the lands on Mount Newton.

Enclosure, a term usually associated with European history, refers to the conveyance of land from the common or public interest into private ownership. Robert Dunsmuir pulled off a spectacular feat of enclosure on Vancouver Island.

He got the Canadian government to pay him to construct the Esquimalt to Nanaimo Railway, and as a bonus got the E&N land grant, involving a huge chunk of eastern Vancouver Island, from British Columbia. The land grant took up a sizable portion of the coastal Douglas fir zone on Vancouver Island. Since most of the zone was privatized, there have been limited opportunities to establish parks or protected areas.

The Dunsmuir Lodge lands on Mount Newton could make an important addition to parks or protected areas in the coastal Douglas fir zone. The adjacent John Dean Provincial Park is home to the only piece of coastal old growth on the Saanich Peninsula.

The area of old growth lies on a north-facing, moist site where it has been protected from fires for hundreds of years. The Dunsmuir Lodge lands are also north-facing, and its forest is maturing and will regain old-growth characteristics in a few decades.

If the Dunsmuir Lodge lands were added to John Dean Provincial Park, it would make an important addition to the protected areas in the coastal Douglas fir zone. The land will remain in natural condition for the enjoyment of the public and also the Pauquachin First Nation.

Mount Newton or Lauwelnew, meaning place of refuge, will be respected.

Andrew Mitchell is a retired professional forester who lives in North Saanich.
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