A newly signed partnership to develop a 6,000 hectare expansion of the Hemlock ski resort is a result of three years of negotiations between the Sts’ailes first nation and Langley entrepreneur Ralph Berezan.
But over the 60 year term of the contract Sts’ailes Chief Willie Charlie said it will bring changes that will transform the way his people live. For this reason Chief Charlie emphasized that “the benefits we were able to negotiate are going to equal or be greater than those impacts.”
The Sts’ailes Healing Centre hall on Morris Valley Road was filled to capacity for the signing ceremony on March 9, and guests included representatives of other first nations, provincial government ministries and neighbours of the Sts’ailes. The ceremony followed Sts’ailes customs and included traditional songs and dances, but there were also good-natured exchanges of jokes and barbs between Charlie and Berezan, demonstrating the respectful fondness for each other that the two men have built over the three years of negotiations.
The proposed development area is massive at 6,000 hectares and will extend the existing Hemlock ski resort to the western shores of Harrison Lake. In addition to the new mountains opened to skiing and a web of ski lifts, there are plans for a marina, hotels, golf courses, riding stables, zip lines and more.
“It’s a development that’s going to take 60 years (to complete),” said Berezan, noting that the application is still awaiting final approvals from senior levels of government.
“The Sts’ailes are not the only government I have to report to. The ministries are watching me like a hawk and have to give me their approvals — that’s what I’ve got my lawyers for,” said Berezan, to laughter from the audience.
In the meantime, Berezan has committed to replacing one of the older lifts at Hemlock with a new quad chair lift by the fall of 2013.
“It’s a start towards this project,” said Berezan, who also presented a $100,000 cash gift to the Sts’ailes Legacy Fund that day, “as a token of our appreciation.”
Chief Charlie stressed “the magnitude, the enormity” of the impacts of “this very significant milestone for the Sts’ailes… it will have impacts forever on our people and once it starts we can’t get it back.”
The benefits are, first and foremost, jobs and opportunities, said Charlie. As a year-round destination, Hemlock is projected to provide 22,000 jobs over the 60 years.
“I go to the school and I tell young people you can be whatever you want to be in our own territory, in this one development,” said Charlie.
“Also the stewardship policy, the heritage policy, the environment policy is incorporated in the contract, to help us maintain the integrity of our territory.
“We are always willing to roll up our sleeves and do our share of the work, to stand up for what we think is right and not expect something for nothing. We’re going to be transparent, very clear and sometimes very loud,” said Charlie.
“I also want to acknowledge Ralph Berezan for setting the tone and example for others that want to do work in our territory.”