The Squamish Nation announced Nov. 2 that it is purchasing 467.25 acres of land in the Squamish area to create new reserves.
In an announcement at Squamish's Totem Hall, the nation announced in conjunction with B.C.'s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations that it is borrowing $16.275 million to purchase five separate parcels of land that it will then apply to the federal government to turn into new reserves.
"This is an historic day for the Squamish Nation," Chief Gibby Jacob said in a news release. "The amount of land we are acquiring is roughly equal to the amount of land that was taken from us by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in 1913. The land is intended to be used by the Squamish Nation to develop housing for our members."
The parcels are located throughout the Squamish area and have been identified as potential sites for member housing
Parcel 2a, a 44.5-hectare site, is located adjacent to fee simple land and is within the District of Squamish. The Squamish Nation believes that development of the fee simple portion of that land could help fund infrastructure and housing.
Also included in the purchase are: Parcel 3, a 261.9-hectare site located above Quest University, and the Mortensen property, which is 8.75 hectares and located just north of the existing Stawamus reserve; Parcel 6, a 118.82-hectare site, is located at Evans Lake and adjacent to the existing Cheakamus reserve; and Parcel 7, which measures 34.5 hectares.
Housing has been identified as one of the biggest issues facing the Squamish Nation. An information package attached to the news release stated that there are only about 200 lots remaining at the First Nation's existing reserves and about 1,000 people on its housing list, meaning more people need housing than is actually available.
Reached for comment Monday, Squamish Mayor Greg Gardner said he was aware that land was being transferred to the nation but he was not aware of lands being designated reserves.
"We're not a party to that transaction," he said. "Additions to reserves are a federal decision, so there's an extensive process before anything is added to reserve, so that is not an overnight issue."
The Squamish Nation is borrowing money to buy the lands out of the Squamish Nation Trust, which was established in 2000 as part of the Omnibus Trust Settlement. That settlement, meant to settle claims around the taking of reserve land by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, included $92.5 million in cash, which the nation is borrowing from to complete this transaction.
The money is being borrowed at an interest rate of 5.5 per cent per annum and the trust will hold a mortgage on the land until the loan is repaid.
The Squamish Nation hopes to pay that money back by developing housing at several of its sites. The nation has about one million square feet available for development at its Kitsilano reserve in Vancouver, where there's a possibility of building office space and rental housing.
Other possible sites for housing development include adding to the Park Royal shopping centre in West Vancouver and another development at Seymour Creek in North Vancouver.