Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Back in the day things were pretty explosive on the Gulf Islands

Ah, to be back in the day where a normal farm practice of clearing land was to use good old dynamite.
The provincial Deputy Minister of Agriculture would help with the acquisition of dynamite to registered Farmers' Institutes who would collect the money from the farmers, fill out a special requisition book, and order the stumping powder (aka dynamite) to be used for clearing land for agricultural production.  Oh, some may have used a bit to go fishing, but most was used for clearing land.

Notice where it says "Canadian Industries Ltd., Vancouver , BC". 

In 1913, Canadian Explosives Ltd, later called Canadian Industries Ltd, established a dynamite plant on James Island. At its peak, the plant employed 1200 people, most of whom lived in a small village on the island. During World War II, the plant produced 900 tonnes of TNT per month for the war effort. In 1962, the plant closed. In 1979, the plant and the village were disassembled and removed from the island.
At least one of the houses were barged off to other Gulf Islands.  We have one on our farm.
House originally from James Island
    All of the bricks on the island came to Pender Island to build Earl Hasting’s house, and Earl also bought the box factory for all the lumber that was in it.
      But we can go further back in James Island’s history, before it was named in 1854 for Governor James Douglas, before a portion of it was bought in 1874 for one dollar per acre. We go back before 1907 when fallow deer and game birds were brought to the island for Victoria businessmen to hunt.
Before the 330 hectare island that lies off Saanichton Bay on the east side of the Saanich peninsula was named James Island, it was part of the traditional territory of Tsawout First Nation. An ancient village site and graveyard is there. In 1904 the government forced the natives off of the island. That has not deterred the Tsawout First Nations from pursuing their aboriginal rights to the land, which they plan to file in 2012. Apparently the current owner of James Island has banned the Saanich people from setting foot on it. According to Sidwell, after billionaire Craig McCaw bought the island in 1994 and sprinkled it with “No Trespassing” signs, “the Tsawout Native Band sought to reclaim the land because they said there was a native village and graveyards on the island. I believe they were told give me what I paid for it and you can have it back”. The Tsawout First Nation wrote in 2008 to Ida Chong, Minister of Community Services, requesting that the OCP amendment Bylaw 169 not be endorsed by the Minister, advising that several issues had not been addressed, namely the heritage village and burial sites and the lack of access for the Tsawout. The bylaw was endorsed anyway. The Tsawout’s were shocked at the report written by North Pender Trustees Gary Steeves and Ken Hancock in 2007 “A Solution for an Ill Treated Island” because no mention was made of Aboriginal Title and Rights. Not only that, the North Pender Island Local Trust Committee, agreed to rescind the RLUB and incorporate James Island into the Associated Islands OCP/LUB for owner McCaw. In rescinding the RLUB, future parkland and right of public access were denied. Any observer of James Island would recognize the duty to consult First Nations. But they were not . The OCP/LUB would create no parkland dedication but instead “cash-in-lieu” for 1.5 million or 5% of the value of the island at time of subdivision.
       At the same time, Trustees Steeves and Hancock discussed the probability of the cash in lieu accruing for the benefit of North Pender residents by using the money to purchase land to protect the Buck Lake watershed. However, the Chair of the LTC, Gisele Rudischer opposed this, as did the CRD Director Susan deGryp. Was it because it was the equivalent of colonization, with the Islands Trust committees as Empires, and the smaller associated islands are the colonies? Maybe McCaw as current owner is ok with it because he did not want public access, but other stakeholders are not. Private now, but based on the subdivision plans, it would devolve to public ownership, at which point there would be no parkland.
      Claims of “deep pockets” that have cleaned up “boxes of buried dynamite and crude oil bunkers” might give the impression that James Island was in terrible shape before McCaw, but I would like to see proof. This often repeated claim of the buried explosives is not in agreement with Sidwell’s detailed descriptions, or John Money’s of Saturna who was also involved in the deconstruction, in that all explosives were accounted for to the ounce. CIL used an Ontario contractor who had done this work before, and a seismograph was used to identify areas to clean all lines of explosives. They drilled down to rock or impervious soil, detonated any areas that may have had residue, and ensured that no explosives were present before any heavy equipment was brought in. Bunker C was torn out, the “boneyard” where old machinery was buried was excavated for the metal to be removed. Lead pipes were all excavated, melted down to ingots, and removed. Yes, it would be classified as a “brownfield development” to have soil tested and remediated as needed, but I wonder about what I see repeatedly written.
      As for the much talked about conservation covenants – how is that working out? According to three conservation assessments, with ground truthing between 2004 and 2006, there has been significant degradation of the environment due to landscaping of the golf course with heavy equipment. The present owner was aware of the sensitive ecosystem inventory for the island and commissioned the 2004 conservation assessment. Notwithstanding this, the species at risk habitat was replaced with a golf course. In his 2006 report Matt Fairburns of Aruncus Consulting states that “the loss of contorted-pod evening primrose is particularly troubling as this species was recently assessed as Nationally Endangered, and the Powder Jetty (on James Island) populations “one of the largest in Canada”. Recognizing the significance of the conservation assessments, and the environmental deterioration since 2004, the decision to go with cash in lieu versus park dedication must be questioned. Will the development have too great an impact? The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve has included First Nations in developing management plans for the Park Reserve areas and they are involved in management as well. Perhaps a better solution would be to dedicate parkland that will be managed by or in cooperation with the Tsawout First Nations through the CRD where the funds are to be sent, which will also allow the Tsawout First Nations their right to access the island.
      Then there is the significant chunk of ALR land, comprising nearly half the island. The province is recently reviewing house sizes on ALR land, because of the increased number of estates on farmland. I don’t even want to open this can of worms right now. A “private island” with a planned 80 houses @ 5,000 sq. ft. max+cottages+commercial development with no public access, even for the Tsawout First Nations, who ironically are in dire need of $500,000 to build their longhouse across the water from James Island after it burned down two years ago.
     Coincidentally, the same two Trustees that fashioned this OCP -rescinding the RLUB that would have given 15% of James Island for the public interest, are now Trustees for North Pender Island again – by acclamation.



  1. My parents cleared their property with dynamite. Our farm was called 'Flying Stump Farm' which had to do with a particular incident involving too much dynamite, a stump and our living room. I still have the old wooden dynamite boxes at my house, they make great bookcases.

    1. My father found what he thought was an old butter
      crate and was painted. Upon a closer look it turned out to be an old explosives crate from James Island, apparently grandpa had also,cleared stumps on his farm on Nicoman Island aka. Deroche BC late 40's early 50's.
      Any chance of getting a picture of one of those old crates or even buying one?