Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley and members of his constituency executive travelled to Thetis Island July 16 to meet with residents and representatives of community groups.
The day started with a tour and organizer David Reay took the group first to the community dock where the entourage saw firsthand the repair issues that prevent emergency vehicles from using it.
”Patient evacuations now require guiding a gurney down a steep and slippery dock to the Island Responder water ambulance,” Reay pointed out.
The group then met with representatives of the Thetis Island Marine Association at Telegraph Harbour, who spoke of their work and challenges. In particular, they talked of the work done to remove derelict boats and manage the growing number of buoy placements.
Routley and the group then went to the People’s Apothecary Garden where Charlotte Fesnoux and Linnea Barrett of the Thetis Island Nature Conservancy spoke about the many volunteer hours creating the garden and the numerous medicinal plants hosted there.
After that, it was over to the Nature House where ThINC director Ann Eriksson gave a tour of the facility and the many projects connected to it. Connelly Stirling provided a workshop on seaweed pressing.
The group next toured the stalls and met with residents at the Saturday Market. The final stop was at Forbes Hall where Routley met with the Tour de Thetis bike group after its morning ride. An avid biker himself, Routley shared stories and cookies with the group.
Following an informal meet and greet, Routley heard presentations from several community groups.
First up was Thetis Island Improvement District Chair, Keith Rush, and Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief, Jeannine Caldbeck. They told how the department has grown, spoke about the new fire hall, the 24/7 nature of their volunteer team and the many support auxiliaries that have been created. They also outlined hurdles from poor cell service to gear outfitting costs.
Rush also spoke as co-chair of the Chemainus-Thetis-Penelakut Ferry Advisory Committee. He noted the rate increases far in excess of inflation that small island routes have faced, the large increases in traffic, the growing capacity issues and the long timeline for a replacement vessel.
Ann Eriksson spoke as chair of the Thetis Island Nature Conservancy. She listed the many accomplishments since forming 10 years ago. Chief among them is the creation of Fairyslipper Forest and Moore Hill nature preserves and the many programs offered at Nature House.
Eriksson spoke of the need to find government support for nature conservation initiatives in small communities like Thetis Island where most land is privately owned.
Dr. Michelle Sutter represented the Thetis Island Health Care Committee. She talked about the work done to provide health services, create an onsite healthcare facility at Forbes Hall and the trouble the committee has in getting minimal health care support.
Sutter cited the example of Gabriola Island that had three full time doctors while Thetis cannot get a single doctor to come two days a month. Discussion following her presentation revealed other Gulf Islands with a similar population as Thetis have health care providers on a regular basis.
Ann Dickie, chair of the Thetis Island Community Association, detailed the major renovations recently completed at Forbes Hall, its health facilities and emergency support status. She spoke passionately of the work with Penelakut artist Maynard Johnny Jr. and his inspiring installation at the front of the hall. Dickie said the cost of the hall renovation and its debt has been carried by Island residents and talked about the lack of brick and mortar grants for vital community facilities.
Wendy Hinsperger, president of Thetis Island Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association, concluded the group presentations. She outlined the umbrella of subcommittees which comprise the association and the issues faced. In particular, Hinsperger mentioned the many steps backward solid waste – specifically recycling – has taken on Thetis Island.
Due to operational constraints at Cowichan Valley Regional District waste management, it cannot provide the level of assistance that it did before COVID. Recycle BC also only supports locations with populations greater than 1,000, even though an excellent system has been in operation since 2014.
Safety issues were raised by Hinsperger regarding narrow roadways on Thetis, which are no longer sufficient for traffic and multi-use of cars, bicycles and pedestrians. Cell phone service is poor to non-existent on the east side of the island, another concern for residents.
A shared concern with all who live on the Salish Sea is the volume of freighters anchored in Trincomali Channel, the noise, lights at night and effect on the delicate ecosystems due to extended stays. Finally, she spoke of the financial burdens that multi-dwelling wells have to transport water samples for Island Health testing. Well managers must comply regardless of well maturity, history and with no change of land use.
“The presentations had a common theme,” Reay summed up. “Thetis Island has a strong sense of community. Everything Thetis runs on volunteers and programs and initiatives are often created and completed through the generosity of residents. It is the ‘Little Island that Could’ as often, when we approach the province, its bodies and other levels of government we continuously run into hurdles and roadblocks because we don’t fit the standard model.
”There needs to be more flexibility in providing programs and funding. Thetis Islanders think outside the box, and if the provincial government worked with us – at the levels they support other communities – we could overcome many of our problems.”
After the event, Routley and participants talked about the success of the event and the need for more in the future.
– David Reay.