News » Sea to Sky

Two-year-old land dispute still unresolved

Squamish Nation and province work to return Tantalus Acres to Reserve



A land dispute in the Upper Squamish Valley has at least one frustrated resident vowing to stay put on land he bought but no longer owns.

Jay Bicknell bought property at Tantalus Acres on the Squamish Valley Road when he was 19 only to learn some 20 years later that due to a surveying error dating back to 1881, his property is actually inside the Cheakamus Indian Reserve. A total of 9.88 acres spread over 14 separate properties was incorrectly surveyed and two years ago the provincial government announced the error would be corrected.

Chris Lewis, a Squamish Nation council member, said the Squamish Nation is just as frustrated with the stalemate as Bicknell.

"We're just trying to right an historic wrong," said Lewis from the Squamish Nation office in North Vancouver on Tuesday, May 21.

A resolution might be close at hand as Lewis said a meeting between the provincial government and the Nation has been set. He said it would take place within the next 10 business days.

"The prolonged uncertainty doesn't benefit anyone at this time," said Lewis.

He added that the Squamish Nation has no specific plans for the Tantalus Acres as yet. Once the ownership issues are sorted out, Lewis said the Squamish Nation would go through a consultation process with its members to determine the best use of the land.

While Bicknell hasn't agreed to vacate his home, many of his neighbours have settled and moved away.

"Our compensation package is less than half of fair market value when you take into account the tax we have to pay on our compensation," Bicknell said in an interview.

He said he isn't agreeing to the offer he received from the provincial government because the numbers don't work for the three properties he owned. He runs an adventure tourism business from the properties and has tenants renting homes on the properties. According to Bicknell, there isn't an equivalent piece of property in Squamish that he can move his business to.

"There isn't any real negotiation," Bicknell said of his dealings with the provincial government and the Squamish Nation over the land issue. "They just basically say suffer where you are or take the buyout. There's no real communication."

He explained that he was given a contract that sets out how much he is to be compensated for the land he legally purchased but technically never owned. He refuses to sign the document, which Bicknell said expires in 2021.

"We have been waiting for the Squamish Nation to help us or work with us on this problem for two years and all they have done is raise our taxes from $300 to $1,500 a year," said Bicknell.

He said he has refused to pay the tax because he isn't getting services to justify the increased tax demand.

"I've got nothing to lose now because if I don't pay my taxes they put a lien on your property," Bicknell said. "It's an awkward position to be in."

Further complicating things for Bicknell, he is worried that his insurance is no longer valid.

"I'm just waiting for someone to care," Bicknell said when he was asked what he plans to do next.

A few of Bicknell's former neighbours accepted the deals they were offered but of the nine homes in the area, he said at least four are occupied by people who aren't prepared to leave. He noted that some of the homes at Tantalus Acres have people living in them despite the fact that an agreement was reached to transfer ownership.

"The houses that have sold... no one takes responsibility for them so people stay in them," said Bicknell.

A letter sent to the Tantalus Acres residents in 2011 promised there would be a seamless transfer of the land and Bicknell said he has a newspaper article from 2011 that quotes Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacobs saying the Tantalus Acres residents wouldn't lose their land because he knows what that feels like.