Tahsis favoured over Yuquot for new rescue station

Mike Youds, September 5, 2018

Canadian Coast guard vessel Cape Ann (supplied photo)

Tahsis, BC — 

Concern over increased marine and tourism traffic at Yuquot factored into the Canadian Coast Guard’s decision to locate a new rescue station at Tahsis rather than on the Island’s outer coast.

Scheduled to open in early 2020, the station will be equipped with a 14.7-metre lifeboat and staffed by half a dozen personnel ready to respond to marine emergencies around the clock.

Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation (MMFN) worked in close partnership with the Canadian government in selecting the Tahsis location.

Chief Mike Maquinna said the facility will provide additional safety and support, not only for MMFN members, but all those who share the marine resources of the area.

“The Mowachaht-Muchalaht are a people with a culture engrained in the sea and its resources and hope the presence of this station will aid in the stewardship of our sea and resources,” Maquinna said.

Along with two other new rescue stations to be added in Port Renfrew and at Hartley Bay on the mainland, the Tahsis facility is part of the first phase of the Liberal government’s $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan. A new station opened in Victoria in July as well.

“It’s a pretty large expansion,” said Randy Taylor, acting mayor of the Village of Tahsis. “It’s something the coast needs. We were under-protected, so it’s real good news.”

Also known as Friendly Cove, Yuquot was initially the location eyed for a new lifeboat station on Vancouver Island’s northwest coast, said Kevin Kowalchuk, MMFN administrator.

The Coast Guard has a long-established presence at Friendly Cove, 37 km south of Tahsis at the entrance to Tahsis Inlet. For more than a century, Nootka Light has guided mariners from its perch there on San Rafael Island. After considering the possibility, MMFN’s Council of Chiefs concluded that adding a marine rescue station would bring additional activity. As the centre of the Nuu-chah-nulth world, Yuquot is a cultural heritage and historical site of utmost importance.

“It’s been a home for Nuu-chah-nulth people for 4,000 years, but the ambience is always there and there are people who still live there,” Kowalchuk explained. “We already have a lot of tourists who go out there. Tourists come from all over the world and there’s lots of traffic in Friendly Cove.”

The choice of Tahsis was confirmed Aug. 24 by Jonathan Wilkinson, the B.C. MP recently appointed Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.  

“The new Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue station in Tahsis improves our ability to respond to marine emergencies and incidents of all kinds in the waters of Nootka Sound and the entire area of the northwest coast of Vancouver Island,” the minister said.

The coast guard relies on the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, a network of 4,000 volunteers, to assist with maritime search and rescue response. A First Nations-led Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary is being formed in B.C. to further support Indigenous participation in marine rescue and patrol activities.

In the case of the Tahsis station, the Coast Guard has issued notice that it would like to see positions filled by MMFN members, Kowalkchuk said. The job requires training but several members already have search and rescue backgrounds.

Taylor said the announcement is welcome news for residents of Tahsis, which has grown to rely on tourism and recreational fishing since closure of its mill in 2001.

The two-storey station may be situated on property currently owned by the village, a former seaplane base, though that specific site hasn’t been confirmed. Construction will involve extending the existing wharf and installing a concrete float.

“It’s all good,” Taylor said. “It’s permanent infrastructure, something coming rather than leaving. People are really excited about it.”

He credited MMFN for the government’s decision.

“They’re the ones who pushed the coast guard in our direction.”