The Valley seems healthy, but …

The Valley seems healthy, but …

Our poverty and homelessness remain hidden

By Mary Lee

Is the Comox Valley a healthy community?

About 150 people gathered last week at the Native Sons Hall and tried to answer that question. They participated in a day-long workshop designed to start a conversation around what a healthy community looks like and how to create and sustain it.

And to decide whether the Valley needs an umbrella organization, such as a Community Health Network (CHN) that focuses attention and action on myriad social problems.

Because on the surface, the Comox Valley looks healthy. We’re abundant in recreation and resources, and we draw new residents weekly from other parts of Canada, many of whom bring significant wealth and social status, and invest in organizations and events that increase our community’s well-being.

Current health data indicates the Comox Valley is healthier than many other island communities.

And that may be the reason we are one of the last communities to form a CHN.

“I question that (the data), because it is lumped all together, so wealth in some of the local areas wipes out some of poverty areas. Things like homelessness and poverty are hidden in this community,” said Betty Tate, Comox Valley Community Health Network planning committee lead and member of the Coalition to End Homelessness.

At the end of the day, the 150 participants representing education, health, housing, drug addiction, the environment and other sectors of society that often work in isolation decided to form a Comox Valley Community Health Network.

What is a CHN?

Most other communities on Vancouver Island have already formed Community Health Networks, some as early as 2006.

Under the guise of a Community Health Network, organizations such as service clubs, social service providers and everyday citizens can pool their collective intelligence, respective mandates and efforts to build a better understanding of the barriers and the opportunities to achieve a healthier, more vibrant community.

The concept of a health network for the Valley began nearly five years ago initiated by the Association of Registered Nurses in BC (ARNBC) that recognized housing, homelessness and seniors’ healthcare were issues increasingly in need of attention and action.

“In that process we discovered community health networks on the Island Health website,” Tate said. “So, we asked Island Health and the answer was, ‘no one in the community has asked for one.’”

Island Health views health networks as community development and, as such, has adopted an approach to wait for a community to come to them.

Initiated by the ARNBC and later supported by United Way, the planning committee composed of community members and agency representatives mapped out how to organize and execute Comox Valley’s first forum from which it could determine if the community even wants a network and, if so, how to establish one.  

The first forum was structured around the social determinants of health – 12 key factors that drive community health outcomes with income, early child development and social status being the biggest indicators.

How it will be funded

“This (the decision to form a CHN) now means that Island Health will seriously look at funding us, as they have funded the other networks, Tate said.

The exploratory forum was funded through the financial support from the ARNBC, the Comox Valley Healthcare Foundation and by a private donor. Start-up funds have been provided by Island Health but are limited to operating costs and are not to be used for any contractor or employee position.

Most other networks hire a part-time coordinator after receiving provincial grant money through Island Health, but, as Tate explained, that will have to be decided once the governance structure is in place. Then the Comox Valley CHN can apply for grant money available from Island Health in April 2018.

“By then it will be over a year since we started this process on volunteer labour,” added Tate. “We do need some coordination time. It’s not a lot, 10 to 15 hours a week, but it does make a huge difference in terms of keeping it together and providing that valuable resource.”

Rob Hutchins, co-chair of the Cowichan Community Health Network, said regional districts play an important role. They are “the keeper of your money,” he said, and added that it’s important to have all levels of government involved.

Most elected officials absent

Given the importance of the tropic, it was disappointing that so few elected officials attended the forum. Only Cumberland mayor Leslie Baird, Councillors Roger Kishi (Cumberland) and Hugh Mackinnon (Comox) attended.

Courtenay city councilor David Frisch said he supported a CHN in a statement sent to the planning committee prior to the forum. But Courtenay City Council’s support seemed to have waned by the lack of representation at the forum.

Tate said that while the government commitment at the first forum was disappointing, the planning committee will quickly develop a governance model.

“There’s a lot of leverage from this meeting to now go back and say that we are putting together a governance structure and we need one person from ever council to be on this,” Tate said.

Tate is enthusiastic that with provincial and federal monies committed to housing, the community can begin to grapple with a problem that so deeply connects and affects the social determinants of health.  

“We now need municipalities to be shovel-ready,” Tate emphasized. “And Cumberland is leading the way and making some zoning changes to support (housing) it.”

Forum participants support concept

“Local governments need to act,” McKinnon said in a video interview with the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness. “Partnerships are key. We all have a role to play and I think that by discussing the issues we all can learn how to take advantage of opportunities or overcome obstacles.”

“The only way we are going to solve challenges to our community is to work together in common unity to plan and implement new approaches which have the full support of all our citizens,” Jack Stevens, a retired teacher, former principal and pioneer of the community school movement, stated in a press release issued by  Comox Valley CHN. “A community health network offers us the best option for the road ahead.”

“We can change the world, we just have to be strong,” shared K’omoks Elder Evelyn Voyageur in her closing remarks and prayer at the forum.

But in today’s political landscape, how quickly citizens can drive change depends on governments willingness to open its purse strings.

What’s next

The next step will be the creation of a governance structure and a subsequent forum as early as January 2018.

Mary Lee is a citizen journalist with the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. You can contact her at


A lament for Strathcona Park

A lament for Strathcona Park

Time to hold mines and loggers accountable

By Susanne Lawson

Strathcona Park is a good example of what can go wrong when resources and money are the primary consideration.  

Almost a century ago, people saw the beauty of the area as an equivalent to Banff.  Elk Valley was bounded by Buttle Lake and Campbell Lake with Myra Falls at the end of it. The valley was full of giant forest, elk, wildlife and the lakes teemed with trout.

The trout fishing was the reason Strathcona Park Lodge (est. 1911) exists today. Jim Boulding and his wife Myrna established a beautiful lodge on the lake and lived a good life, just outside the park boundaries. They raised a big family and fought for the preservation of the beauty and intrinsic values of the park.

It is unfortunate that the B.C. government didn’t see that value.  

When I visited recently, Myrna explained to me that the original lodge used to be 140 feet below where we now stood. It is hard to comprehend the vast degradation the park underwent in those past years and the heart-breaking processes that the Bouldings watched take place.  

Aerial view of the John Hart Dam

In 1948, the B.C. Power Commission decided to dam the north end of Upper Campbell Lake to generate power for a growing Campbell River region. This caused the Elk Valley to flood. Upper Campbell Lake and the Elk Valley became one huge dammed Buttle Lake, where water levels rose 18 feet. That left a shoreline of dead trees and stumps, and 10 to 20 feet of gravel in the dead zone between high and low waters.

A pulp mill was built near Campbell River in 1952 to take advantage of the new, inexpensive source of power.

The power station at the John Hart dam is being upgraded for seismic purposes.

The flushing of the water to adjust the power flows also flushed out spawning salmon from the Campbell River. No fish ladders were Installed, so trout ceased going out and salmon ceased coming in.

The logging of the valley was part of the damming process, and so, then why not just take what old growth was valuable in the process? Along with that, fires from the ever present slash burning got out of control and the area burned.  

Well, as if that wasn’t enough, the government decided in 1965 to issue mining permits within the park, not just small ones but mile-deep monstrosities with huge factories to break up the ore with noisy rolling balls and chemicals like cyanide to break it down. The tailings were dumped into ponds that were always overflowing into the lakes until the trout became poisonous, at least their livers were officially announced dangerous to consume.

Hikers into the park could hear the giant fans deep within the earth going 24/7 to ensure those miners down there survived, despite the ore dust they inhaled. Then, more mines were given the go ahead and places like Cream Lake on top of the mountains there and other areas were being drilled for ore.  

That is when the protests started in the 1980s. Swans that inhabited the upper end of the now dammed Buttle Lake were found dead with oil on their feathers, something that perhaps helped, along with public outcry, to stop the incursion of more mines.  

Two status of parks ensued, Class A and Class B. Heaven help you if you want to enjoy a class B park. Watch out for mine shafts and ore trucks.  

Logging continues all around the park and you would be hard pressed to find any old growth forest left within eyesight, although there is lots of fresh logging.

Many years ago, the B.C. government awarded CP Rail the E&N Rail Grant for the northeast side of Strathcona Park, and at one time, the border between the park and the grant  ran through the northeast corner of Buttle Lake. This was a time when it looked as if the rail line would continue up island and possibly into Strathcona Park, which was envisioned as another Banff.

Eventually a select number of logging companies in the early 1950s we4re allowed to purchase parts of the grant and these companies logged around the borders of the park and on the shores of Buttle Lake with in the grat area. Today, this entire region is owned by Timberwest who purchased the land from the smaller companies.

The people of BC. gave up park land in order to have a perpetual railroad in operation on Vancouver Island only the logging companies conveniently forgot about that part of the bargain.

How come the people get nothing out of these deals?  

Westmin Mines, commonly known as the Myra Falls Mine, has changed hands numerous times wince Westmin first developed it in 1965. It was recently sold to Nyrstar, and then closed for several years. Nystar is now getting the mine up and running.

The giant pulp mill will never operate again due to the lack of demand for newsprint and other paper products. There was an attempt to turn the old mill into an LNG facility, but with a glut of liquid natural gas all over the world, that idea went the way of the dodo.  

Isn’t it about time to hold these corporations accountable? And time for a new paradigm … for the sake of our children and the future?

Susanne Lawson has lived in Clayoquot Sound for 50 years. She is a resident of Tofino, B.C. 

University of Victoria graduate student Catherine Gilbert contributed factual information for this commentary.


Wild salmon on brink of disaster

Wild salmon on brink of disaster

Bears starving, sea lice out of control

PHOTO: One of the fish boats leaving the occupation site with the Kayactivists following. Susanne Lawson photo


By Susanne Lawson

NOV. 16 — I am sitting in a boat near a Marine Harvest fish farm in the Broughton Archipelago. I walk outside and the air stinks of acrid, penned Atlantic salmon and feed pellets that are continuously sprayed into the pens. The sound of the sprayers never ceases. It is depressing to see these fish leaping in the air trapped in these stinking pens. Salmon should never be in pens.

This farm has been occupied by local First Nations for almost three months now. There are multiple First Nations involved, very dedicated people.

There is a camp in the woods of kayakers standing by to help. They call themselves Kyactivists. There is another camp of people at a land-based house nearby that was built by Marine Harvest, which First Nations occupied. Marine Harvest has several land-based houses for workers, leased quite permanently (it seems) for comfort and ease of access.

These are public lands, public waters.

At the farm, five pens are empty as the protest has so far prevented more Atlantic salmon from being restocked and four are full of approximately eight-month-old fish. Marine Harvest does not have permits to restock at this time, yet are determined to go ahead.

There are about 4 to 5 boats belonging to supporters of the protest with people aboard them, providing support, transportation and warmth. The weather has been stormy, cold and wet.

First Nations people — Chiefs and their families — have maintained a presence here since August. Two young women, Molina Dawson and Karissa Glendale, in their early 20s, of the Musgmagw and Namgis First Nations, are living on the floats.

Chief Ernest Alfred and other hereditary First Nations of Alert Bay occupied Swanson Island fish farm and Wicklow fish farms this fall. Marine Harvest came in and stocked the pens in front of the Chiefs who were occupying the farm in full traditional regalia.

Seven people have set up a camp in the woods nearby, treating the area with great respect and understanding; one of them doing his doctorate in law and jurisdiction. It is a sweet space with big trees and a creek bubbling nearby.

Marine Harvest has gone to court seeking an injunction to have everyone removed. The judge has given both parties until Dec. 14th to present their case and in the meantime the First Nations agreed to remove their occupation and buildings. Marine Harvest wants to go ahead and restock the empty pens with Atlantic salmon smolts, despite First Nations objections.

The Namgis First Nations in Alert Bay

Things are at a standstill right now. Sad that nothing is preventing more Atlantic salmon and diseases to continue to prevail in B.C. waters, especially after such a concerted effort to bring about positive change to such a destructive process as fish farming. So much and so many are losing … commercial fishermen, sports fishing, families dependent on the wild salmon resource, bears, eagles, trout, marine life like seals, sea lions, and so much more.

It is impossible to weigh the values of what wild salmon have provided for the coast. Wild salmon are on the brink of disaster. Wild stocks are crashing. Alaska has closed all Chinook fishing. Bears and more have been starving on the coast. Sea lice are out of control all over the world where these farms exist and have been found on emaciated trout, ling cod, herring and more.

An application for 18 hectares of pesticide use has been made for Clayoquot Sound waters by another fish farm company, Cermaq, owned by Mitsubishi and operated out of Norway. We are all losing while others are profiting from our loss.

How far does this go? Until our amazing wild salmon are extinct? I hope for sanity to prevail. If this doesn’t turn around now, the irreplaceable loss of our wild salmon migration and all it nourishes will be one of the greatest regrets of this century.

Susanne Lawson and her late First Nations husband, Steve, have lived in Clayoquot Sound for more than 50 years. They have actively protected salmon, bears and natural habitat from mining and old growth logging. She’s an artist and writer.

Solidarity with salmon defenders

Solidarity with salmon defenders

200 support First Nations opposition to fish farms

By Alice de Wolff

The science surrounding Atlantic salmon farming and First Nations’ opposition to these farms on their territories in the Broughton Archipelago came together at a powerful event Thursday night in Courtenay.

Two hundred Comox people filled the North Island College theatre to view the documentary “Salmon Confidential,” and show their support for First Nations who have occupied a Marine Harvest first farm since August on Midsummer Island, near the Broughton Archipelago just east of Port McNeil on northern Vancouver Island.

The Comox Valley event took place just two days after a B.C. judge ordered the defenders to take down a camp they had been occupying since August. The wild salmon defenders represent the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, ‘Namgis, Mamalilikala and Lawit’sis First Nations.

While the court order was a disappointing moment in the struggle to have the farms removed, it allowed two key young activists, Molina Dawson and Karissa Glendale, to attend the event in person. Their presence brought a personal sense of immediacy to the gathering.

They told the large crowd that First Nations are not going to stop opposing farms in their territory.

The Kumugwe Dancers opened the evening. They shared traditional dances that honoured the salmon, offered healing and called to the powerful spirit of the ocean.

The crowd then took a moment to honour the work of the late Twyla Roskovich, who made and narrated the documentary film. People were encouraged to donate to the scholarship that has been established in her name.

The film features biologist Alexandra Morton and her struggle to help identify what is causing dramatic declines in wild salmon populations. She and others have been concerned for many years about the extent to which parasites, viruses and heart disease are present in Atlantic farmed salmon and their impact on B.C.’s wild fish.

Roskovich’s documentary investigates disputes between scientists, and the apparent muzzling of critics of the industry. It includes interviews with B.C.’s Animal Health Centre’s fish pathologist Gary Marty, whose findings and connection with the industry have recently come under scrutiny by the new provincial government.

Activist Sally Gellard delivered a statement of solidarity on behalf of Maude Barlow, Honorary Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. Sally travelled to the Midsummer Island camp two weeks ago, along with six other Council of Canadians supporters, and delivered the same message then.

She emphasized that one of the key acts of reconciliation our governments could take is implementing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Molina Dawson and Karissa Glendale then spoke about their experience of being served with an eviction notice and appearing in front of the judge in Vancouver. Their quiet clarity and unwavering dedication to the removal of farms from their territories brought the audience to its feet in a long standing ovation.

Carla Voyageur also spoke. She is a central coordinator of the campaign, and is Molina’s mother. She reminded the audience about the need to pressure both levels of government not to renew the fish farm licences.

She encouraged all supporters to not purchase farmed Atlantic salmon. And she brought the gathering back to a key reason that pushed her community into action: Her relatives and others on the coast do not have enough food fish for this winter and she is very concerned about how people are going to survive.

The evening was hosted by the Comox Valley Council of Canadians. It raised funds for the Twyla Roskovich Scholarship held by the Gulf Island Film and Television School, and the on-going work of the salmon defenders.

Alice de Wolff is a citizen journalist with the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project, and a national director for the Council of Canadians. She lives in Union Bay. She may be contacted at


Ruth Masters — environmentalist

Ruth Masters — environmentalist

Editor’s Note: This obituary was submitted by the family

Ruth Jessie Masters was a war veteran, avid hiker, historian, naturalist, environmentalist, protester but maybe most importantly she was one of ours – born and raised in the Comox Valley. She was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox on May 7, 1920. She passed away peacefully at the new North Island Hospital in Courtenay on November 7, 2017. She was 97 years old.  

Ruth lived almost her entire life in her own home, which she built on her parents’ property in Courtenay. She served in the Canadian Air Force as a clerk in England during World War II and was promoted to Sergeant. In Courtenay she worked as a legal secretary from 1952 until 1992. Ruth was an avid hiker throughout most of her life. She made her first hike up Mt. Becher with her family in 1933 when she was just 13 and five years later climbed Comox Glacier and became one of the first members of the Comox District Mountaineering Club.

Ruth was a dedicated local historian. She never forgot her time spent oversees during the War and she never forgot the many who did not return. She spent countless hours researching names on the local Cairn and then lobbied the provincial government to name lakes and mountains in the area for many of the soldiers who served in both the first and second world wars. Her detailed compendium, “Lest We Forget” is on display in the Courtenay Museum

Ruth also compiled other local history books that are on display at the Courtenay and Cumberland Museums – ‘Courtenay’, ‘Forbidden Plateau’, and ‘Ginger Goodwin’, each one leather-bound and engraved by Ruth. They are all probably best thought of as loving gifts from Ruth to the people of the Comox Valley. 

Ruth was an environmentalist before the word was invented. She was passionate about the need to protect wildlife and the natural world.  She always spoke up for those without a voice and always fought to protect the natural beauty of her homeland, especially Strathcona Park and the Comox Valley.

Ruth was known to put her body between bears and trophy hunters. She was on the beaches in Tofino in 1989 to clean up after the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill. She carved up road-kill and drove them in her little red truck to wildlife rescue centres for food in both Parksville and the Comox Valley.

She could always be counted on to help out with blockades, protests and rallies to protect the environment.  When mining threatened Strathcona Park she blew “Oh Canada” on her faithful harmonica at almost every arrest during the three-month standoff at Buttle Lake in the middle of the winter in 1988. She was a ‘master’ sign-maker, making directional signs for alpine trails and protest signs for her numerous causes.

Working side by side with her good friend Melda Buchanan around 1990, Ruth played a key role in lobbying to add forestland to Seal Bay Park.  On a rainy, windy day in December 1994, along with Carol Neufeld and Fran Johnson, Ruth put her body in front of chainsaws to protect the trees in what we now all take for granted as MacDonald Wood Park in Comox.  She donated 18 acres of her own land in Courtenay for the Masters Greenway and Wildlife Corridor

Ruth ‘walked her talk’ and that is why so many remember her.  She set an example for all of us for how to live on the Earth and leave it in better shape.  Growing up ‘church-mouse poor’, as she would say, she always lived a modest life but was generous to a fault, giving to environmental organizations, wildlife protection groups, the SPCA, the NDP and many, many more.

Ruth was predeceased by her father, William Edward Masters, her mother Jessie Smith, and her only brother Bill. She is survived by her nephew James Edward Masters, distant relatives in Victoria and Ontario, and her God-daughter Lorrainne Dixon. 

Lorrainne was tasked with making health care decisions in Ruth’s declining years and did an admirable job. Ruth was always firm that she wanted to live out her final years in her own home.  As her health declined this was not always easy but Lorrainne held firm in respecting Ruth’s wishes and ensuring that Ruth was safe in her home.

Although she had few living relatives, Ruth built a huge family around her in the Comox Valley and in her declining years a small inner circle of that family helped Ruth stay in her own home.

Thanks must also be expressed to Ruth’s primary care giver – Yolanda Corke. Yolanda was Ruth’s daily lifeline, checking on her early each morning and afternoon and calling on volunteers when extra help was needed. More than anyone Yolanda provided the day-to-day care that allowed Ruth to remain in her home in her final years.  Yolanda was at Ruth’s side when she passed away in hospital. 

There will be a Celebration of Life for Ruth from 1 pm to 4:30 pm on Sunday December 10 at the Florence Filberg Centre – Conference Hall in Courtenay at 411 Anderton Avenue. Doors will open at 12:30. Donations may be made to the Ruth Masters Hero Spoon Award online at or by mail to North Island College Foundation, 2300 Ryan Road, Courtenay, BC, V9N 8N6, or to a charity of your choice.

Curious about Civic journalism? — Decafnation wants you!

Curious about Civic journalism? — Decafnation wants you!

Decafnation is seeking a dozen people passionate about civic engagement and the importance of an informed electorate.

In just over 12 months, Comox Valley voters will elect people to manage the affairs of Courtenay, Cumberland, Comox and the three unincorporated areas of the regional district, School District 71 and other municipal positions.

The community is best served if voters choose based on an understanding of important community issues, and an equally thorough knowledge of how each candidate proposes to address these issues for the common good.

To do our part, Decafnation hopes to collaborate with a number of people willing to serve voluntarily as Civic Journalists.

Over the next 12 months, these public journalists will investigate the Comox Valley’s most critical issues and report on them in-depth. And we’ll shine the same bright lights on the candidates who seek municipal office, and ultimately endorse a preferred slate of candidates.

If you’re passionate about the Comox Valley community and want to contribute to public understanding leading up to the 2018 fall elections, then contact Decafnation.

The only requirement is a serious interest in civic politics or some specific issue vital to the future livability of the Comox Valley.

How to contact Decafnation:
Text: 250-218-2496
Leave a message on our Facebook page or in the comments section at the bottom of this article.

What happens next:
After you express interest, we’ll meet to discuss this Civic Journalism project in general, and your individual interests in particular.