We are excited to launch a new series today based on a local story of intrigue that involves hundreds of millions of dollars, famous hockey players, and all sorts of allegations of wrong-doing. This series required 3 separate photo shoots to get all the photographs together, countless hours of post-processing and a vast amount of online research conducted by Mrs. Toad to provide the back-story we’re about to share with you now.
This story is proof positive that sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
Times Colonist 25 May 2006“If we want to blow up a cave and put up a hotel, we will.” Len Barrie
In 2003, after much controversy and public opposition, former NHL player and co-owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Len Barrie together with a group of investors made up of mainly former and current NHL players opened Bear Mountain Victoria Golf Resort and Spa on several hundred hectares located on Skirt Mountain, in Langford, BC.
In 2006, as development continued up the mountain, a cave was discovered that was considered sacred by the First Nation People. The mountain they called “SPAET” had been a gathering place for family groups to hunt, bathe, and engage in other spiritual activities. After the BC Archeology Branch of the Ministry of Tourism, Sports and The Arts approved excavation work allegedly to determine it’s archeological value, a few First Nations protesters hiked up the mountain before sunrise and made good on a promise to form a blockade to halt the destruction. Len Barrie’s group responded by sending 125 construction workers to intimidate the First Nation protesters and sued the Chiefs and Bands for $1 million in damages. A Provincial judge postponed the action. It resulted in a 14 day truce while backroom talks went on between the Songhees First Nation, the Tsartlip First Nations, the Sen’co’then Alliance and the Federal and Provincial ministers of Aboriginal Affairs, and the LGB9 group, Len Barrie’s investors group. It is interesting to note that the city counsellor that voted in favour of the LGB9 development permits also worked for the BC Archeology Branch, the very entity entrusted to assess the archeological value of the cave. In her own words, the cave had to be dismantled in order to assess it’s value. The roof of the cave was removed and the water that formed the underground lake was pumped dry, effectively destroying the cave. It has since been filled with old tires and tree stumps from excavation further up the mountain. No conflict of interest is ever declared. In the end, it was the Chief of the Songhees First Nation Peoples that approved the destruction of the cave through a revised agreement in exchange for a casino, land, cash and commemoration of First Nation Heritage at Bear Mountain. Tsartlip Chief Chris Tom and the Sen’co’then Alliance walked away from the bargaining table and vowed to oppose any development that lacked consultation with First Nations. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs endorsed this position.
In 2007, the mayor of Langford declared that construction of an interchange would begin within 6 months to service the new development although no formal agreement had been made. This led to The Coalition to Protect Goldstream Watershed, a group concerned with the environmental impact of the project, to stage a “tree-sit” in the path of the proposed interchange. After a time of confusion around payment for the interchange, the city of Langford, over the objections of more than 2,000 taxpayers, borrowed almost $10 million for the project in 2008. The developer was meant to repay their share by March, 2009, which did not happen. The interchange now sits unusable, a virtual “bridge to nowhere”. It was supposed to be finished by Fall, 2009.
In 2010, the courts assigned Bear Mountain into bankruptcy and transferred ownership to the largest creditor, HSBC, owed about $250 million.
A former friend and business partner, Sean Burke, alleged fraud against Len Barrie for misappropriation of funds. He alleges that Barrie used Bear Mountain to fuel a high-end lifestyle for himself, even as his co-investors lost their money. He also alleges that Barrie used $2.5 million of Bear Mountain funds to purchase a co-owner share of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Although Barrie maintains his innocence, his former accounting firm resigned after bringing a number of transactions into question, saying that they may have been improper, and in some cases, illegal. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have launched a full investigation into the matter.
Barrie has also found himself in hot water over charges that he failed to file corporate tax returns for 2008 &2009. Although, again, he maintains his innocence, the matter is still on-going.
1998-2001: talks begin between WFP, gov’t of BC Crown Grants unit & LGB9
2001: December – LGB9 buys Crown land & several hundred hectares of WFP’s private forest land on Skirt Mountain for $7.5M
2002-2006: Bear Mountain Parkway is built thru former FLR land. A Jack Nichlaus designed golf course, a village centre of shops, condos & a Westin Hotel. Several luxury homes are built on terra-formed platforms where Garry Oaks & Arbutus once stood
2006: Langford buys homes along Leigh Rd. For BM Interchange
- May: Cheryl Bruce demands protection of sacred cave
- November: BC Archeology Branch approves excavation of the cave
- November: First Nations establish blockade of cave
- November: LGB9 sues Bryce, Songhees F.N., Tsartlip F.N., and chiefs Robert Sam and Chris Tom & requests injunction allowing work to proceed
- December: Draft agreement leaked to media suggesting F.N’s leaders approved destruction of cave in return for casino, land, cash & FN commemoration at BM. Mediator denies any agreement reached. 2 weeks later, Chief Robert Sam appears at a press conference with Len Barrie announcing a revised agreement. Tsartlip chief Chris Tom, Sen’co’then Alliance walk away from table, vowing to oppose any development that lacks consultation with F.N’s. Union of BC Indian Chiefs endorses this position.
2007: Protesters stage “tree-sit”
- Victoria Times-Colonist “Bridge to Nowhere”
- Dec. 28/10 Zoe Blunt-reporter
- Jan. 28/11 Andrew A. Duffy-reporter
- CBC.ca March 25/10
- Goldstream Gazette
- Dec. 14/10
- Feb. 1/11
- July 8/08
- Langford’s Bear Mountain Interchange; Urbanization on the Western Frontier and the Blurring of Public & Private Interests – by Ben Isitt, Dec. 2007
- To Steal A Mountain; the theft & destruction of sacred sites on SPAET Mountain by Adam Barker, June 2007
This post forms the back-story for a series of photographs that details visually the state of the project as of this writing in the spring of 2011.