With the one-year anniversary of a fatal bus crash approaching, Bamfield residents and visitors alike are calling on the provincial government to make a final decision on improvements to the Bamfield Road.
On the night of Sept. 13, 2019, a Wilson’s Transportation bus carrying more than 40 University of Victoria students rolled over an embankment on its way to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. Two UVic students were killed in the accident.
Now, almost one year later, a proposal to upgrade the road is sitting before the Provincial Treasury, and a letter-writing campaign is emphasizing the urgency of improving the 85-kilometre gravel road.
The call to action was put together by the Bamfield Community Affairs Society, as well as the Huu-ay-aht First Nations. It asks for people to craft letters about their experiences on the Bamfield Road and send them to Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser (email@example.com).
“The idea is for people to write from the heart,” explained Beckett. “Their experiences, their expectations. The idea is Minister Fraser will move this information and let the treasury board know what the impact has been, on residents and visitors.”
As of Thursday afternoon (Aug. 13), Huu-ay-aht First Nations Chief Robert Dennis Jr. said he had been copied on almost 50 emails.
“I’ve personally responded to each one,” said Dennis. “The majority of them have been from Bamfield residents, which shows that they are seeing this as a very important matter.”
Beckett, who is also being copied on the emails, said that he has also received quite a few from the students who were on the bus that fateful night, as well as their families. As a retired fire chief, with more than 40 years of emergency response experience, Beckett says he has been “emotionally moved” by some of the letters.
“The most profound letters have been from the students that were on the bus that night,” he said. “These are not just short emails, these are heartfelt, emotional pleas. There’s anger, disappointment, frustration. They recognize that the accident has changed their life. It really has traumatized many people.”
“It’s an adventure every time we take this road,” he added. “It shouldn’t have to be an adventure. It’s unacceptable in this day and age, after the Roger Harris report [of 2008], that nothing has been done.”
September 13 will mark the one-year anniversary of the fatal crash, and both Beckett and Dennis are hopeful that a decision will be made before then. According to Beckett, Cabinet has approved the project in principle, and the Treasury board could be making a decision soon.
“Minister Fraser has worked very hard on this file,” said Beckett. “I have full confidence that Treasury is going to approve the project.”
“We’re coming up to one year [since the crash],” added Dennis. “Quite a bit of time has elapsed. We’re doing our part to get the province to respond to this very urgent issue. We’re hopeful that the Treasury board will see the importance of this.”
Huu-ay-aht First Nations has been advocating for improvements to the road for decades. In 2018, Huu-ay-aht hired Urban Systems Engineering to develop a proposal to upgrade the road. Upgrades would include chip sealing, drainage improvements, railings at bridges and flooding controls. The estimated cost of the project over three years is $30.7 million, and Huu-ay-aht has already committed to contributing $5 million.
The maintenance budget for the improved road would be $1.1 million annually, to be shared by the same partners who now pay for road maintenance: the province, Western Forest Products and Mosaic Forest Management.
Beckett says that the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District is “100 percent in support” of the Huu-ay-aht project.
“Our ultimate goal is that we support the initiative started by the Huu-ay-aht First Nations,” said Beckett. “If for whatever reason the project isn’t approved, we still want a proper standard to be established, with proper maintenance on the road.”
For Dennis, chip sealing the road is about more than just safety—it’s also about economic opportunity for the Huu-ay-aht First Nations and their traditional village centre, Anacla, located near Bamfield.
“It’s certainly going to help the economy of the region,” said Dennis. “My hope is that we can diversify the economy and provide tourism opportunities for visitors.”