Popular mobile sauna at Esquimalt Lagoon forced to find new home after council vote


It’s a popular spot in Colwood for locals and visitors alike — Esquimalt Lagoon is known for its oceanfront views and, more recently, a travelling sauna business that’s been there since mid-January.

Only now, Colwood council has scrapped its special event permit, meaning Josh Dupuis, owner of Wildwood Saunas, won’t be able to operate there as of March 31.

“I thought with the amount of support and stuff that we had and people sending in letters, that they would consider or give us guidelines to operate,” Dupuis told CHEK News in an interview.

Colwood Mayor Doug Kobayashi says the permit allows businesses like food trucks to set up shop, but only for a couple of hours a week. A sauna felt more permanent, so council unanimously voted to rescind the temporary permit at a March 13 meeting.

“It was never established that we’d have commercial businesses down there,” said Kobayashi. “Our plan was to actually not let any more commercial businesses establish themselves in the lagoon because it’s still a bird sanctuary. We’re trying to keep that balance and respect that.”

On its website, the Government of Canada says the lagoon’s sanctuary, established in 1931, is a popular spot for many migrating waterbirds to feed and rest.

“The shallow tidal waters of the lagoon support thousands of waterfowl from October through May, making this one of the top birding spots in the region,” states a post online.

The mayor and council are pushing for Dupuis to move his business down the road to Royal Beach — the privately owned oceanfront land across from the new expansive Royal Bay housing development.

“We all are supportive of the business. It’s a service to the public. But it’s when do we say no? There are other businesses that want to expand (at Esquimalt Lagoon). Let’s hold it where it is right now and move it all down to Royal Beach,” said Kobayashi.

Wildwood operates from Thursdays to Sundays, offering customers a place to “unwind in our custom-built, cozy and ready-to-use Finnish-style wood-fired mobile sauna,” reads a description on the company’s website. The facility is both licensed and insured.

“They didn’t want to set a precedent with this business, and not allowing that business. Like, I get it … you don’t want a bunch of food trucks or saunas at the lagoon,” added Dupuis.

Still, he says he’s staying optimistic. After all, his business has made a splash — he’s been commissioned to build saunas and has built a loyal following.

“It’s well known that saunas boost the immune system and they help with mental health issues. Having worked at home for the past three years. Wildwood Saunas is vital for my well-being,” said Brian Pridham, a frequent Wildwood customer.

Prior to council’s meeting, Pridham took to social media to voice his support while asking others to do the same.

“Wildwood Saunas doesn’t pollute the environment at all. It brings people into the community,” he added. “I know, for us, we would go out after the sauna and go into Colwood and visit their bakeries and go to their coffee shops. Injecting money into their community.”

The saunas will stay heated along Ocean Boulevard — at least until the end of the month. After that, Dupuis’ mobile business plans to hit the road. But where it’s going is still up in the air.

Ethan Morneau

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