Bamfield Road will be getting a $30-million upgrade, one year after two University of Victoria students died when the bus they were riding in rolled off the gravel road.
Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser, also Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, made the announcement Friday, Sept. 11 from Victoria. The province will spend $25.7 million with $5 million coming from the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, whose territory includes Anacla and Bamfield on Vancouver Island’s west coast. The Huu-ay-aht will oversee the project with technical support from consulting firm Urban Systems.
The 76-kilometre unpaved industrial road will be chipsealed, which the Huu-ay-aht determined was the best way to make it safe. Chipsealing will give it a hard surface, but is not the same as paving it. The road is the main ground transportation link between Port Alberni, Bamfield and Anacla for medical, emergency and community access. It is the only road access to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, and is considered the gateway to the West Coast Trail—meaning people from all over the world drive it to get to the trailhead.
Students John Geerdes of Iowa City, Iowa and Emma MacIntosh Machado, 18, from Winnipeg were en route to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on Sept. 13, 2019, when their bus rolled off the road and down an embankment. There were 48 people on board, including the driver when the bus crashed at the 36-kilometre mark. Three were airlifted to hospital in critical condition and numerous others were injured.
Following the fatal crash, the provincial government struck a working group with Huu-ay-aht First Nations and local forest companies to discuss safety upgrades.
The UVic students were the latest to die on Bamfield Road, but they weren’t the first. The Huu-ay-aht First Nations have lost eight members over the past two decades to accidents, and more who have been injured. Tayii Hawil (Hereditary Chief) Derek Peters said his grandfather was killed in an accident on Bamfield Road.
“A lot of lives have been lost on that road,” Peters said.
“Our nation was forever changed when Tayii Hawil Art Peters, my grandfather, was killed on Bamfield Road. It is tragic that it took the loss of so many to highlight the need for chipsealing the road, but we honour the ones we have lost by doing everything we can to prevent the loss of life along this vital link in the future.”
Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr. said two people have in the past few months been in collisions with logging trucks due to excessive dust on the gravel road.
Stakeholders have criticized the amount of time it has taken for this announcement. The Huu-ay-aht First Nations, whose territory comprises Anacla, a community right next to Bamfield, have been asking for 20 years for improvements. They have lost eight members in crashes along the road in that time.
Fraser said he has spent 16 years in various political roles trying to get the governments of the day to act. He blamed confusion over jurisdiction for the delay. “It’s fallen through the cracks in the system,” he said.
“What I was told by the previous government is it wasn’t their responsibility because of the ownership issues.”
Status of the road will not change, he added, although the Huu-ay-aht will oversee maintenance. The road’s designation will also not change despite a recommendation in 2008 by BC Forest Safety Ombudsperson Roger Harris to create a new designation for logging roads that serve as a community’s primary or secondary access road.
Fraser said the announcement is part of the BC government’s COVID revitalization plan. No construction timeline has been set—the treasury board only approved the project a week ago, he noted. “We need to get shovels in the ground very quickly.”