Oyster Bay Microtel as viewed through a newly built gazebo (Coast Salish Group photo)

Coast Salish Group poised for generations of future success

Coast Salish Group oversees an array of projects that bring large economic benefit to the region

The Coast Salish Group (CSG), formerly known as the Coast Salish Development Corporation, has won numerous awards over the years for their approach to business. They added another award to the list at the 2019 B.C. Indigenous Business Awards for Outstanding Business Achievement in the Community-owned category.

“It’s always nice to be recognized. We work hard. A whole team of people are involved. It’s not just a Coast Salish Group award, it’s chief and council, and the community that allows us to do what we do,” Ray Gauthier, CEO of CSG said.

One of CSG’s most visible projects is the Oyster Bay Development. The development is home to the Oyster Bay Microtel, a Ladysmith and District Credit Union branch, the Oyster Bay liquor store, an office for the First Nations Health Authority, and an Esso station with a Tim Horton’s Franchise.

There is still retail space available for lease. Gauthier said more services will move in to the development once CSG begins their residential ambitions.

“We’ve taken advantage of the opportunities you see here, but now we have to make a residential component in order to support some of the other aspirations that we have, and that the market research said we’d need to do to in order to accomplish the overall land use goals that we’ve set out,” Gauthier said.

Gauthier said CSG will begin developing patio homes early next year. The homes will be built on an 18 acre plot of land behind the Husky. That area will also one day be home to a four storey condo building, as well as a four storey assisted living building.

“If we fulfill our dreams, we’ll have a population of about 800 people,” Gauthier said. “It’ll take about 15 years to get there, but that is the plan, and we’re quite optimistic about that for us.”

Oyster Bay Microtel increasing opportunities

CSG has an 83 percent ownership stake in the Oyster Bay Microtel. Gauthier said the hotel is performing in line with CSG feasibility studies.

The Microtel has opened up new opportunities for eco-tourism in the Ladysmith area. It’s also provided a nearby option for travellers moving through the Nanaimo Airport. Gauthier said that the hotel is an anchor tenant in the development.

RELATED: Oyster Bay Microtel solidifies reputation as a Vancouver Island destination

“The other component we don’t talk about a lot is… we’re getting a lot of support from other First Nations. They’ll come here and hold seminars in our meeting room. They’ll make a point of staying here if they’re going to be in the area, and we appreciate that support,” Gauthier said.

Job creation across the Oyster Bay area

Gauthier said CSG has invested around $20 million in the area with the combination of the Microtel, the new Esso and Tim Horton’s station, as well as the liquor store and bank buildings.

“That’s having a huge economic benefit,” Gauthier said. “We’ve probably created employment — and have employment in Oyster Bay right now — that’s somewhere between 350 – 400 people. That includes both our organization, and the band organization.”

When the entire 65 acres is built out, Gauthier estimates the area will provide 1000 – 1200 jobs.

Esso and Husky stations operate as partners, not competitors

The Oyster Bay Husky station was the first established business in the area back in 1989. The Husky is also partnered with an A&W franchise, and has been a popular spot for Ladysmith commuters for years.

A few years ago, CSG moved to establish an Esso station on the other side of the highway. The Esso is partnered with a Tim Hortons.

Initially, CSG was concerned that the Esso could cannibalize the Husky’s market, however the opposite proved to be true.

“We’ve created a whole new market for the Esso service station,” Gauthier said. “I can tell you we’re doing well. We’re selling — at this point — pretty much equal amounts of gas on both sides of the road.”

The Esso’s performance has exceeded expectations. Projections suggested gas sales at the Esso would peak after year three. Gauthier said that by the end of year two, the Esso had already surpassed that peak.

The Tim Horton’s has also performed better than anticipated. Gauthier could not comment on specific projections, but said that the Tim’s has performed around 70 percent better than corporate expected.

The Oyster Bay Tim’s has a bit of a niche market, given that their drive through can accommodate larger trucks, and alleviates some of the bottle neck that occurs at the Ladysmith Tim Horton’s.

“The bottom line is both the Tim’s and the Esso have exceeded expectations,” Gauthier said.

Stz’uminus woodlots offer quality timber from a small harvest

Stzu’minus has two licensed woodlots with the province. Currently, they can harvest a maximum of 10,000 cubic metres.

The woodlots are in the Holland Creek area. Stz’uminus recognized the sensitive environment of the area, and worked collaboratively with the Town of Ladysmith to minimize any impact their logging activity would have on wildlife and local residents who use the nearby trail system.

Gauthier said CSG harvests according market conditions, and has found a cooperative partner in Timber West.

“The real opportunity for us in logging — we’re hoping is going to come as a result of our reconciliation agreement that we’re currently involved in with the province,” Gauthier said.

That reconciliation agreement would give CSG and Stz’uminus access to a greatly expanded area.

CSG a 50 percent partner in the Holland Creek housing development

The Holland Creek Development project plans to add 610 units of housing to Ladysmith over the next 15 – 20 years. Phase two of the project began in July.

The development took a unique approach and designated 39 percent of the space as parkland. This initiative was something CSG pushed for as part of their “triple bottom line” approach.

RELATED: Phase two of Holland Creek development adds 38 units of housing

“Everything we do here is based on that,” Gauthier said. “We purposefully in the construction of Holland Creek donated 39 percent of that land back as park land because we want to show the region that you can do what we think is responsible development, and not get every last inch out of it.”

Along with their partners, EDJ Projects, the development has overseen environmental improvements to Holland Creek and nearby riparian areas.

The land was originally part of a wood lot licensed by Stz’uminus from the provincial government. Stz’uminus approached the province about buying that section of the wood lot to be developed for residential use.

“The crown uniquely, in that situation, said yes. Because, the Town was in favour, we were in favour, and we had a partner… so those pieces seemed to be a win-win-win for everybody,” Gauthier said.

Reconciliation agreement a game changer

Gauthier said Stz’uminus is asking for land resources, licensed wood lots, and water lots in their reconciliation agreement.

Stz’uminus has put various areas of interest on the table with Crown. Gauthier said at this point the biggest challenge is the logistics of accessing the land they’ve requested. The Treasury Board will receive financial submissions sometime between the end of October, and the middle of November.

“They seem to be quite willing to work with us to get us through the process. I can’t understate the value of what that means to us, not only to Coast Salish Group, but to the Stz’uminus First Nation. It’s not just an economic play, it’s establishing a land base that’s going to help the band for the next hundred years,” Gauthier said.

Opportunities across the Salish Sea

Stz’uminus is currently in court with the provincial government over a land claim on the mainland. The area is called Tl’uqtinus. Stz’uminus is partnered with three other nations in their claim: Cowichan, Penelakut, and Halalt.

Gauthier said he’s confident the group will win their case.

Through that claim, CSG has been offered numerous opportunities on the mainland. CSG is now involved in work on the Pattullo bridge, the Highway 91/17 upgrade project, and they will be involved in the George Massey Tunnel replacement project.

The group also has stake in Fortis BC’s Mount Hayes LNG operation, and is in talks to be involved in the $4 billion Tilbury Island LNG plant expansion.

CSG success a product of partnership

CSG has worked hard over the years to achieve the success they enjoy today. Stz’uminus chief and council have changed relatively little over that period, and it has resulted in a group of people all working for the same goals.

Gauthier said the guide for work at CSG is ‘are we doing good things?’ CSG is mindful of what the community and neighbouring municipalities want. They spend time working with the Town of Ladysmith, and the CVRD to build relationships.

“We feel that we’re always going to be stronger as group than we’re ever going to be as individuals. I think that’s what we’re mindful of when we’re going through some things that are a bit more challenging. We want to make sure we’re being respectful on both sides of that equation,” Gauthier said.

CSG projects have had a large impact on the community at large. According to a recent estimate by Gauthier, CSG has had a $200 million impact across the region. Gauthier said that the economic benefit will only grow in the years to come, and that the entire region can share in the success.

“We feel that we’re contributing in a huge way, not only to our growth, but to the growth of the region,” he said.

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