A ribbon cutting Tuesday to officially open the resurfaced Bamfield Road comes two years after work began, but decades after calls for a safer road were made.
“It started probably a generation ago by Bamfield and Anacla residents, something where the safety of the road was a primary concern,” said Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor John Jack.
In a press release, Jack added: “Completing the Bamfield Road Reconciliation Project was a top priority for Huu-ay-aht. Working in partnership with the Province of BC, C̓awak ʔqin, and Mosaic, together we have made this a reality. We wanted to provide a safer and more reliable route for everyone who travels in Huu-ay-aht territory.
“With this upgrade, we begin building a strong, self-reliant community and economy for Huu-ay-aht citizens and everyone in the region. We are grateful to everyone who has supported Huu-ay-aht in reaching our vision.”
It was unsafe because it was narrow, the road was soft, and there were no guardrails. The bumps and potholes made for tough and slow travel much of the time.
“If you knew what a washboard was, that’s pretty well what it was all the way down, all the way from Port Alberni to here, so it’s good to see that change,” said former Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis.
Robert Dennis was Huu-ay-aht Chief in Sept. 2019 when disaster struck at the 40 km mark of Bamfield Road.
A bus chartered by the University of Victoria rolled off the road on its way to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. Two students were killed.
It was the final impetus to get the road fixed.
“There were guardrails put in on very important areas, including the site where the bus went down, as well as replacing over 200 culverts and making sure the surfacing is done in such a way that the drainage is done well,” said Jack.
Seventy-six km of road was chip-sealed, resulting in a hard, durable surface, almost like driving on pavement.
The Huu-ay-aht hope the road will now lead to new economic opportunities.
“I hope that we would reduce our reliance on natural resource development and start looking at other kinds of economic development,” added Dennis.
“Tourism is one sector of the economy that we very much want to take advantage of, but we want to do so in a principled and value-based way,” said Jack.
Many of the people CHEK News spoke to Tuesday are in favour of the new road, saying they like how smooth it is and how it’s a little bit quicker to get back and forth to Port Alberni (the speed limit is still 60 km/h), but at the same time, the feelings aren’t entirely unanimous.
“It’s just going to bring in too much of the city, and we’re out here to be away from the city,” said Bamfield resident Wendy Purdy.
“I think it’s good that we have easier access to amenities, but it also gives everyone else easier access to us, which is kind of the reason I moved out here was to get away from city life,” added resident Mistaya Duhamel.
The resurfacing cost about $36 million, and maintenance going forward is expected to be the same or less expensive than before.