Another significant milestone has been reached in efforts to acquire, protect and restore a former industrial sawmill site on the banks of the K’ómoks Estuary.

On February 26th, 2021, ownership of the Kus-kus-sum property transferred to the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society (Project Watershed) from Interfor Corporation. Project Watershed will hold the land “in trust” for the K’ómoks First Nation and the City of Courtenay while details of a co-ownership agreement between the two parties are finalized.  Title to land will then transfer to K’ómoks First Nation and the City, with Project Watershed remaining as site manager throughout the restoration process. 

“This is a huge achievement, I am very proud of our team and the community of people who has made this possible.” stated Pat Sloan, Chair of Project Watershed.

While acting as the trustee for the land, Project Watershed will be able to move forward with some of the first steps necessary to prepare the site for larger restoration works that will follow.  Work scheduled for March 2021 will include removing the vacant office building on the property. 

The Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program and the Pacific Salmon Foundation have already committed funding toward the restoration project, contributing $300,000, $20,000 respectively. The project was is also being supported through the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which is delivered by the Real Estate Foundation of BC and Watersheds BC, with financial support from the Province of British Columbia as part of its $10-billion COVID-19 response. In total, funding applications for over $2 million to support the restoration work have been submitted to various government agencies and foundations.

Turning the corner from land acquisition towards restoration is a big shift for the project partners, made possible through significant financial contributions secured in late 2020.  This included an additional $650,000 from the Province of British Columbia bringing their total contribution to $1.65M. The project team acknowledges the significant efforts of Comox Valley MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard and Premier John Horgan in securing this funding.

Additional contributions were provided by the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, the Blue Moon Fund, the Ngan-Page Family Fund, and hundreds of other organizations and individuals.

The Kus-kus-sum project will play a transformative role in supporting fish and wildlife in the K’ómoks Estuary.  In addition, the project will be unique from many other restoration projects through its meaningful reconciliation in the relationships between the K’ómoks First Nation and the City of Courtenay, the Province of BC and non-indigenous residents of the Comox Valley. 

“The Kus-kus-sum site has strong cultural significance to K’ómoks First Nation and at the time of contact and settlement, there were tree burials on the Dyke Road side of the river just downstream of the former Fields Sawmill, said Chief of the K’ómoks First Nation Nicole Rempel. “While there is some documentation of these burials in various writings and oral history, they are not extensively documented, and may have been extensive along the lower part of the river and surrounding this old K’ómoks village site area. Being stewards of the lands and waters, it is inherently our duty to restore and assist in the rehabilitation of the natural habitat of the salmon and various marine and wildlife in this area with our skilled Guardian Watchmen for our future generations.”

The ultimate goal is to transfer full title on the property to K’ómoks First Nation once the remaining co-management and other agreements are in place.

“This is about much more than acquiring a parcel of land for ecological restoration,” said Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells. “The City of Courtenay understands the cultural and historical significance of this site, and it has been deeply meaningful to participate in the strengthening of our relationship with K’ómoks First Nation and practice reconciliation – this is one of our Council’s strategic priorities. The City greatly appreciates the support from the Province and the entire Comox Valley community, and we look forward to continued collaboration with Project Watershed and K’ómoks First Nation in restoring and stewarding this important and sensitive land.”

To learn more about Kus-kus-sum or make a donation, visit www.kuskussum.ca

Kus-kus-sum at the end of the rainbow – Photo Credit: Bill Heidrick
Excavators to being restoration in the near future at Kus-kus-sum – Photo Credit: Caila Holbrook
Office building to be demolished at Kus-kus-sum – Photo Credit: Wink Richardson

Caila Holbrook, MSc.

Manager of Fundraising, Outreach and Mapping, Project Watershed