The Toquaht Government Office looked like the scene of a lottery win last Thursday as the First Nation split a $1 million fortune with the District of Ucluelet.
The two West Coast communities each received $500,000 cheques cut from the 2017 profits of their Barkley Community Forest Corporation partnership on March 14. After handing over both cheques, the chair of the corporation’s board, Terry Smith suggested more is coming.
“We have paid all our outstanding bills. We have money put aside to take care of known liabilities,” he said.
He noted the sum was smaller than the $1.5 million figure that had been anticipated last winter, but said the corporation still has an inventory of roughly 17,000 cubic metres yet to sell and he hopes to make another cheque presentation in the “near future.”
Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques was thrilled to see the community forest, which the two partners launched in 2015, begin to bear fruit.
“We’re excited to think about, along with our community, the many ways we can invest it and spend it and we really want to thank our partners and the board for all the great work that you’ve done for your region and for your community,” she said. “We look forward to a great future.”
St. Jacques told the Westerly News that Ucluelet’s community forest pursuit began in the aftermath of the West Coast’s logging protests over 20 years ago.
“Our community had a history of forestry for many, many, years. We underwent a lot of change in the 1990’s, which lost a lot of our economy for us,” she said.
“So, we started chasing after it then and here we are, 25 years later, and we’ve ended up with terrific partners in the Toquaht Nation…We are providing jobs and opportunities for community members and for people in our region and now both of our communities are receiving profits of the harvesting that’s gone on with more economic activity to come.”
She said working with the Toquaht has been “terrific” and added the two partners are discussing potential tourism and educational activities at their community forest site, located near Maggie Lake.
“This is unbelievably exciting for us and a dream come true,” she said. “It’s great to work with neighbours. We have so much in common and the same goals for our communities. It’s a terrific opportunity.”
She said Ucluelet would reach out to the community to determine what to spend their profits on.
“It’s an open book right now and a great place to be,” she said.
Toquaht Chief Anne Mack said the process to launch the forest was arduous, but well worth it.
“I’m ecstatic about it happening, coming to good terms with everybody and being able to move forward together,” she said adding the funds would help the First Nation build its community in Macoah.
This is really something we need to continue with our other projects that we have going…The Toquaht are just developing in our territory. That means, from the ground up, we have to get our businesses started from infrastructure to whatever it is.”
She said that with the growing pains of striking a new corporation in the rearview mirror, she hopes the two communities begin focusing on stronger communication with each other.
“Like any organization, we need to do a little bit more planning together and we want to look at our vision as well. A community forest is not just the forest and the trees, there are so many opportunities that can come out of it that we’re really wanting to look at,” she said.
“The first part of it was so much just getting it started. It was roadblock after roadblock, but it’s now come to fruition and we can talk about the really good things and what else we can do under this venture of a community forest.”
Smith said the community forest has employed West Coasters “wherever possible” and that, of the project’s roughly 30 employees, 11 were local.