CMHC Update – Access Granted to Seymour
Mixed messages are coming out today regarding the CMHC lands and what access trail users might expect in the future. A tweet sent out by Jane Thornthwaite, the MLA for the area (the Provincial Gov’t representative for those from outside of Canada) suggested that everything has been tidied up but the wording is less than iron-clad .
What does she mean by “CMHC and the Province are prepared, as co-owners, to permit…” As a friend pointed out to me, I may be prepared to pay more tax next year, but I’ll avoid it if I can. It seems as though Ms. Thornthwaite is speaking on behalf of the CMHC but the body hasn’t released a formal statement and isn’t getting back to media outlets.
Some sources are suggesting that the CMHC has met with stakeholders including the nsmba which released this statement:
Update: October 27, 2016
The NSMBA President, Vice President and Director of Advocacy met with representatives from the CMHC’s Vancouver regional office this morning.
The CMHC acknowledges that they did not conduct sufficient consultation with user groups and neighbouring land managers before posting the updated signage.
- The CMHC is committed to dialogue and is currently conducting bi-lateral meetings with multiple stakeholders in order to gather information.
- The CMHC wants to develop a short-term solution to address issues related to signage and to develop a medium term solution for the trails on their lands.
- The CMHC was very receptive to the NSMBA and inquired in detail about how the association works with the other land managers.
The NSMBA looks forward to the finalization of the CMHC’s medium term plan, and urges the Corporation to include therein provisions for access to the trail network by mountain bikers and other recreational users.
Original article below.
Hopefully this is all good news and it will continue to get better – but I’d like to see something more concrete from the CMHC.
Imagine blissfully pedalling, hiking or running toward your favourite trail only to discover it’s been deemed private property – despite being owned by a government agency.
Hikers, dog walkers, runners and mountain bikers were rudely awakened by 25 signs at trailheads on Mount Seymour this past week. Most trail users had no idea these parcels were owned by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) nor were they aware of the significance of this. Since 1995 most of the 644 acres owned by the CMHC have been zoned as PRO (Park, Recreational and Open Space), the exception being the 110-acre parcel that butts up against Mount Seymour Parkway which, while undeveloped, is zoned residential. *
I first heard about the land owned by the CMHC on Mount Seymour in relation to a trail project being funded by the organizers of the North Shore Ripper. Asian Adonis was not sanctioned by the NSMBA nor the CMHC but it was extremely well built in terms of water and slope management. When contrasted with the rough and tight lines the North Shore is famous for, Asian Adonis was a welcome trail experience with ample flow and well-sculpted berms and rollers. It’s a beauty of a trail.
“As a trail runner and mountain biker, I can assure you that many trail runners (while not as organized) support NSMBA and are following this situation closely. Yes, I think it’s unfair that blame has seemingly been placed on the MTB community (or at least that’s how it’s perceived) and not other activities. CMHC has been a passive landowner in a prime location for trails. By being passive, it’s become a world renown destination that has umpteen benefits to our health and well being as well as our future kids.” – comment on NSMB.com bulletin board
Before this the North Shore Mountain Bike Association (or NSMBA – with whom we currently have no affiliation) conducted little maintenance or trail development on CMHC lands but since that time they have directed substantial energy into that area resulting in some of the best riding and hiking experiences on the North Shore. John Deere is a fantastic new line as are the climbing trails Penny Lane and Good Sir Martin. It’s one of the few areas on the Shore where it’s possible to climb and descend entirely on singletrack and the zone has become increasingly popular. The trails that are designated as climbing only for bikes are extremely compatible with runners and hikers who are frequently seen in the area.
Signs near mountain biking and other trails on the North Shore aren’t new. There have been signs on Cypress and Fromme for decades and generally these are considered to either be remnants of a bygone era or legal tactics to avoid liability. The 25 new signs fail to identify a landowner and there is no contact info included. It seems the CMHC would rather not advertise the fact that they own the property.
The CMHC spoke to Global TV on Thursday afternoon and provided a new statement through spokesperson Karinw Leblanc. “At its core, this is a safety issue. We recognize the concerns raised as a result of this updated signage. Currently, steps are being taken to engage with interested parties, including the province and the local municipality, with a view to considering options for future use and ensuring a co-ordinated approach to managing and monitoring the use of the property.”
A statement issued by the nsmba is advising riders to obey the signs erected by the CMHC for the time being:
In light of the No Trespassing signs being installed on Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) land in the Mount Seymour area, known locations listed above, the North Shore Mountain Bike Association is urging its members to respect the signage while we investigate their origin.
The NSMBA is attempting to contact the CMHC, which has historically been a hands-off landowner, and will communicate to the community through our website and on our Facebook page any changes in their official position.
As of the time of posting all NSMBA trail maintenance activity has been suspended in the area and riders are urged to respect the signs as posted.
At this point it’s difficult to know what the CMHC’s goals are. It’s possible the agency is trying to force the District’s hand, to punish the municipality for not allowing them to develop the land or to simply avoid liability. There is no indication they plan to enforce these boundaries or to begin actively managing the land. Over the years they have been extremely unresponsive when contacted by trail groups and users and their sudden interest does not seem to be a good sign. Let’s hope this doesn’t end up restricting trail use over the long term, because the loss of these trails would be a huge blow to the North Shore community.
How Did CMHC Come To Own This Land?
The land currently owned by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) was appropriated from the District of North Vancouver in 1927. A total of five parcels with an area of 644 acres were claimed by the Department of National Defence to build a rifle range. Only the southernmost parcel, adjacent to Mount Seymour Parkway, was used for this purpose. The District wanted $50,000 for the parcel but DND only ended up paying half that.
Blair Range, named in 1930 after Major R.M. Blair, a Seaforth Highlander sharpshooter, was built largely by displaced unemployed men who were paid no more than $1 per day. Until 1936, when a single tractor arrived, the work was done entirely by hand. Once finished the range was used by various regiments until the 1960s.
In 1968 a base was established in Chilliwack and Blair Range was declared surplus and transferred to the Federal Government. The District of North Vancouver tried to purchase the land for half of its $110,000 assessed value, but Ottawa wanted market value which they pegged at $1 million. DNV Council at the time decided that having the land transferred to the CMHC would prevent either the DND or the Federal Government from sitting on the land and waiting for it to appreciate. It was felt that hasty development was the best route forward for the 644 acres. At this time the, what was then known as the Squamish Indian Band applied to purchase the southernmost 110 acres to establish a new reserve, which contained the only potential road access. It’s thought that the sale to the CMHC was in part an effort to prevent the Band’s purchase which would have made development of the remaining 530 acress impossible.
The CMHC paid $1,846,500 for the land in 1968.*** It has been suggested that the Crown Corporation has wanted to develop the land since that time, but they have been foiled by opposition from both the municipality and residents.
In 1995 the District had the parcels above the original rifle range zoned as Park, blocking future development. The CMHC challenged this in court but the DNV prevailed. It’s been said that animosity from that battle persists to this day between the CMHC and the DNV. B.C. assessment currently values the 110-acre site of Blair Range at just over $57 million. The rest of the property is potentially worth another $150 million.
Most of the research for this comes from an excellent article written by Donna Sacuta. Link here.
*This parcel, the former site of the Blair Rifle Range has been found to be contaminated by lead, copper and zinc. There could also be unexploded ordinances remaining.
**The CMHC fought hard against this zoning change taking it to the B.C. Supreme Court. The Court found in favour of the District of North Vancouver in 2000. It has been suggested that the legal battle between the CMHC and the DNV lead to animosity between the two entities that endures today.
***I have seen several references to joint ownership of the property by the Province of B.C. and CMHC but I have yet to uncover documents supporting this.
Here are some links and email address for those who would like to contact either the CMHC or the elected representatives responsible for Mount Seymour. Please do so respectfully.
I would like to urge you to consider how you portray our community online and on the trails when dealing with this issue. While the CMHC is a Crown Corporation, meaning it is owned by you and me, the corporation has a legal right to restrict access to the property that has been deeded to them. Let’s let the dust settle some and demonstrate what we know to be true; that most mountain bikers are responsible and considerate trail users who greatly appreciate the natural experiences we are afforded here in North Vancouver.