Vehicles are regularly abandoned along the rugged road to Bamfield, including this bus that sat for years partway down the road. (Eric Plummer photo)
Although Premier John Horgan is not taking immediate action to upgrade the rugged passage where two University of Victoria Students died in a bus crash Sept. 13, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations are optimistic improvements will come.
During a meeting with the First Nation at the Union of B.C. Municipalities in Vancouver on Tuesday, the premier said an engineering report had already begun before the tragedy, as part of work Horgan was undertaking with Claire Trevena, minister of Transportation and infrastructure, to improve the 85-kilometre road from Port Alberni to Bamfield.
“We’re going to be working, Claire and I, and the appropriate forest companies and the Indigenous community, to try and find a way to improve that road,” said Horgan on Thursday, Sept. 19.
Horgan met with Huu-ay-aht leaders on Sept. 24 at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention in Vancouver, part of decades of advocating for an upgrade from communities that relay on the road. Another meeting with the First Nation is scheduled in October.
“We are saddened that it took a tragedy to highlight the need to chipseal the road,” said Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr., who happened to come across the bus crash shortly after the vehicle left the road on the evening of Sept. 13. “We want the premier to understand that we are not going to rest until our vital link is safe for all who travel the road.”
UVic biology students Emma Machado and John Geerdes, both 18, were pronounced dead at the scene after the bus fell down an embankment. Others were airlifted to hospital in Victoria.
The group was on a two-day trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, an excursion held for the last 18 years. The university plans to hold another trip in late October, but this is contingent on the review of an RCMP investigation currently underway.
“Very soon after the university was informed about the accident, we knew that we wanted to fully understand what happened,” said Gayle Gorrill, vice-president of finance and operations, in a statement from the university. “The safety of our students is extremely important to us at UVic. Whenever there are situations such as this tragedy, we need to learn from them.”
Since the road opened in the 1970s, the Huu-ay-aht have lost eight members to tragedy on the route.
“Our lives were forever changed when our Tayii Ḥaw̓ił Art Peters, my grandfather, was killed on that road,” says Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin Derek Peters. “Our sacred principles of ʔiisaak (Utmost Respect), ʔuuʔałuk (Taking Care of….), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (Everything is One) guide us as we do business, and the discussion today honours these principles.”