First Nations bands threaten blockade of Bear Mountain

Natives demand archeological assessment to protect caves, burial sites


Rob Shaw

Times Colonist

May 25, 2006


Greater Victoria First Nations bands are threatening a blockade and legal action against Bear Mountain resort, saying they want to protect grave sites and caves threatened by development.

The dispute centres around a number of mountain caves and burial sites once thought to be only a native legend but discovered this month by the Songhees First Nation on the south side of Bear Mountain, in Langford.

The resort, featuring luxury condominiums and houses, a Westin hotel, spa and Steve and Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, has been carved out of forest, and is still being developed.

But long before the golf course, or even contact with white European settlers, aboriginals used the area for cultural ceremonies, a campground, and a burial site of cairns (where bodies are placed under large boulders for protection), said Songhees land manager Cheryl Bryce.

The Songhees say they are worried about damage from a road now being built by Bear Mountain, which has a deal with five nearby landowners to provide a route from the resort to the Trans- Canada Highway. The natives do not want the exact location of the caves known, for fear of scavengers.

"The whole development is disrespecting First Nations," said Bryce. "They are destroying lots of areas that are so important... they've got their bulldozers beside some of them."

The Songhees have been asking for months for an archeological assessment to map potential graves and caves, which then could be preserved under B.C.'s Heritage Conservation Act.

Langford sent Bear Mountain Development Corporation a letter dated Feb. 6 advising them an "archaeologist should immediately review the area of work and ascertain if there are any cultural sites that should be protected."

The resort only last week agreed with nearby property owners to do an assessment, but has no definite plans about when the work will be done.

Meanwhile, construction has continued. "No we haven't stopped," said Bear Mountain CEO Len Barrie. "We can't afford to stop."

The Songhees say they are prepared to seek a court injunction if their concerns are not addressed. If that fails, Songhees members, the Tseycum First Nation in Saanich, and the Tsartlip First Nation (which owns land adjacent to Bear Mountain) will block access to the resort, said Bryce.

"We've tried to talk to the developers and they don't seem to be listening," said Tsartlip Chief Chris Tom. "That might be the only step they are going to listen to and hear, a blockade."

Both sides claim the other has failed to make contact to discuss the issue and emotions have been running high. "You know, if we want to blow up a cave and put up a hotel we will," said Barrie, before adding he does not believe any caves to be on the property, and the resort would work with First Nations if they did find something.

"I bought the property, I own it, we have the mining rights, so what?"

Les Bjola, project developer for the $2.3-billion, 1,300-acre development, said he believes at least one of the suggested caves is outside the resort's boundary, south of a planned vineyard on a slope below the signature 19th hole.

"There are no caves on Bear Mountain," Bjola said, gesturing to a map during an interview at the resort.

 Times Colonist (Victoria) 2006