The Sandspit community gathered at the Sandspit Inn last Wednesday to talk about the situation with Transport Canada and what to do moving forward, before SCS got a conference call with the federal department to discuss it’s future on Thursday. (photo Heron Wier)

The Sandspit community gathered at the Sandspit Inn last Wednesday to talk about the situation with Transport Canada and what to do moving forward, before SCS got a conference call with the federal department to discuss it’s future on Thursday. (photo Heron Wier)

Future of Sandspit Inn hangs in the balance, Transport Canada not renewing lease

Transport Canada and Sandspit Community Society set to discuss options

The Sandspit Inn is facing closure, following a decision by Transport Canada to no longer renew their lease.

The federal department has agreed to leave the Sandspit Inn open until the end of September so the Sandspit Community Society (SCS) can honour their already signed contracts with clients for the upcoming season. Last Thursday, Transport and SCS spoke via conference call to find a solution to save the inn.

The Sandspit Inn is in a building that is owned by Transport Canada’s airport land and has been leased by the Sandspit Community Society since 2014. The lease, which is on a two-year term, ran out in May, however, a stipulation in the contract allowed SCS to continue operations until a new lease was provided.

In the fall, Transport Canada reassured the society that they were working on the new lease. More than a week ago SCS received a call from the federal department, informing them that the lease would not be renewed and they would require an exit plan by the end of March 2020, explained Heron Wier, volunteer director of Sandspit Community Society.

“The hotel building is considered to be surplus property as it is not necessary to support airport operations, and the ownership of a hotel does not fall within Transport Canada’s mandate. As such, Transport Canada intends to sell the building in accordance with the federal rules to dispose of surplus real estate property,” stated the federal department.

Wier said that the community gathered for a meeting to discuss the situation and felt that the biggest issue continues to be Transport Canada’s lack of communication and stability on the issue.

“Without the Sandspit Inn many of these companies would have to house their guests in a different community and use the services offered in that community. The trickle-down effect of this would be devastating to the Sandspit economy and may mean the end to our grocery store and bus system,” Wier said. “Since 2014, tourism has been increasing [in Sandspit] and the economy has slowly improved. Our economy and available services rely on the business of tourists and tour companies utilizing the services offered in our community,” Wier said.

Wier also said that the inn accounts for more than 25 per cent of tourism accommodation in the area, not including the fishing lodges.

READ MORE: Haida Gwaii sportfishing lodges set to shut down

The inn houses 20 rooms, available to tourists in the summer, and is used by tour companies as their local logistics base. The inn is one of the largest employers in Sandspit with up to 20 full and part-time employees in the summer — 14 per cent of the working population of Sandspit.

No official paperwork or written statement has been drawn up to confirm the inn will stay open until the end of September.

“Our community cannot handle the inn not being open for one summer. Trying to sell it is just as bad as demolishing it. The stability is what the community needs, and needs to know it will operate as a hotel and restaurant continuously and there won’t be a big break,” Weir said.

Manager may leave position over inn’s uncertain future

Transport Canada said they were notified in September 2019 that the Sandspit Community Society no longer wanted to operate the hotel and is looking for a third party to take over the lease.

Wier said that SCS had no intention of shutting down the inn and were working to find someone to take over the lease.

“We wanted the inn to continue, we are volunteers trying to run a fairly large business. It is a lot of work and tiring. Now that it is a buyable business it was a great time to transfer it,” Weir said.

Ben Cochrane, current manager of the inn and teacher by trade, was set to take over the lease, something which Weir said Transport Canada was notified of immediately.

Cochrane took a leave-of-absence from teaching to start The Gwaii Land Tour Company and was hoping the business opportunity would be another step into the business realm.

Cochrane has a deadline of March 31 to notify the school board if he plans to return to teaching. With the fate of the inn up in the air he may abandon the business opportunity altogether.

“This situation does not bode well for me sticking with [the inn] if I do not know what the future of it is. I am feeling a little hesitant about it. Transport Canada is not giving us a way to move forward from a business standpoint,” Cochrane said. “There is not a lot of stability Transport Canada is offering and I was working closely with the Sandspit Community Society to transition to a private proprietorship. This puts a hamper on those plans.”

Cochrane said he would like to see the community take ownership of the building and lease it to him after having spent 37 out of the last 39 years of his life living on Haida Gwaii.

“To get to that point, it is a long way off. Those are all pie in the sky things to hope for.”

Cochrane would also consider purchasing the building, despite the costs not fitting into his immediate business plans. Transport Canada confirmed that “substantial repairs to maintain the building will be required in the next few years” but could not speculate on the cost of repairs.

“I’m thinking of it from a community perspective right now and not a business perspective. I have to put that aside for the time being,” Cochrane said.

A purchasing process would also well exceed Cochrane’s March 31 deadline to decide whether or not to return to teaching.

Transport Canada said they could not speculate on a timeline to complete a purchase. In order to prepare the building for a potential sale, a number of assessments need to be completed, including a survey plan for the site, environmental reports, valuation estimates, and consultation with local stakeholders and Indigenous groups.

Transport Canada must then sell the building in accordance with federal rules to dispose of surplus real estate property. The department is required to consult with other federal departments, the province, local governments and Indigenous groups. If there is no interest expressed, they may then can go ahead to sell the property to other potential buyers, they stated.

Evan Putterill, electoral area director for Sandspit, for the North Coast Regional District, said that the board has not considered taking over the building if offered at the regional level.

“The more important reason is that there is a business operating successfully. There is no need for local or regional government to take it on. That would have to be forced by federal government, and they have not asked us that,” he said.

Putterill said he is most disappointed that Transport Canada seems to be disregarding the value the community has put back into the airport, which Transport Canada owns and operates.

“This building is a landmark here in Sandspit and it is a really important part of our lives. People are really upset with the way Transport Canada has dealt with this. The volunteer fire department has been providing emergency services for at least 20 years to the airport, and they can’t see the value this community has. It is out of touch with what is going on and this would demolish the community,” he said.

Skeena-Bulkey Valley MP Taylor Bachrach has also been advocating to keep the inn open at the federal level. Bachrach said he has written letters to Transportation Minister Marc Garneau, but no formal meeting has been set yet to discuss the issue.

“Regional staff deal with these kinds of thing and the bulk of conversations take place at that level. It never hurts to let the minister know the impacts decisions will have on small communities. My fear is sometimes the impact of decisions on small communities are not immediately evident at the higher levels. I am always optimistic once they understand what it means to the community that they will make the right decision,” Bachrach said.

READ MORE: Liberals’ fiscal update shows billions more in deficits this year and next


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
Jenna Cocullo 
Send Jenna email
Like the The Northern View on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Five to six years of log accumulation at Diana Lake Provincial Park is currently being cleaned up by a District of Port Edward and Parks BC partnership. (Photo: Supplied by District of Port Edward)
Diana Lake Provincial Park clean up underway

Port Edward District spearheaded the park clean up securing $80,000 in funds from Ridley Terminal

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
52 positive COVID-19 cases now associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

Eight cases still active, 44 considered recovered

Northern Health announced on Dec. 1 holiday changes to the medical travel bus schedule for December and January 2021. (Photo: supplied)
Holiday schedule changes for Northern Health Connections bus

N.H. announces transportation time changes from Prince Rupert to Prince George

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

An RCMP officer confers with military rescuers outside their Cormorant helicopter near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
Good Samaritan helped Kootenay police nab, rescue suspect which drew armed forces response

Midway RCMP said a Good Samaritan helped track the suspect, then brought the arresting officer dry socks

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

(Needpix.com)
Pandemic has ‘exacerbated’ concerns for B.C. children and youth with special needs: report

Pandemic worsened an already patchwork system, representative says

Janet Austin, the lieutenant-governor of British Columbia, not seen, swears in Premier John Horgan during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. Horgan says he will look to fill gaps in the federal government’s sick-pay benefits program aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. premier says province prepared to patch holes in new federal sick-pay benefits

Horgan said workers should not be denied pay when they are preventing COVID-19’s spread

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

Most Read