One day after Ha-Shilth-Sa published the story Family Day campers visit Hesquiaht despite pandemic closure, Tofino Resort + Marina issued a letter of apology to the people of Hesquiaht.
On Thursday, Feb. 18, Hesquiaht Elected Chief Joshua Charleson contacted Ha-Shilth-Sa after being notified that two groups of campers were spotted at Stewardson Inlet near Hot Springs Cove, despite widely publicized announcements that Hesquiaht territory is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the story it was reported that a Hesquiaht forestry monitor spotted three people getting off of a boat at Stewardson Inlet. They each had bikes, surfboards and camping gear and headed approximately eight kilometers over a rough gravel road to Hesquiaht Point. They told the monitor that they were from Tofino.
The same monitor noticed an unmanned boat tied to the dock and later came upon two other people boarding the vessel and leaving the inlet.
Charleson’s father, Stephen, lives at Hesquiaht Harbour. He went searching for the uninvited campers on Feb. 16. He found an abandoned campsite at Hesquiaht Point with some trash and a still smoldering fire.
Chief Charleson notified the RCMP who came to investigate, but by then all the campers had left the area.
Hesquiaht has gone on record declaring their territories closed to all but residents and essential workers during the provincial state of emergency, which has been in effect since March 2020.
“Hesquiaht First Nation has communicated to the pubic through various channels since the start of the pandemic that all of Hesquiaht First Nations’ Hahoolthi (territory) are closed to all non-essential and non-Hesquiaht resident travel,” said Charleson.
He went on to say that if any of these people had gotten hurt or their boat broke down, it would be up to Hesquiaht people to respond to the emergency, potentially exposing themselves to the virus.
On Friday, Feb. 19, Charleson received a letter of apology from Christopher Fehr, General Manager of Tofino Resort + Marina. Addressed to Hesquiaht Hereditary Chiefs, Hesquiaht community members, as well as elected Chief and Council, Fehr acknowledges that one of the vessels that came to Stewardson Inlet that day belonged to the resort and marina. Fehr said in a phone interview that one of their boats was rented out on that weekend. They realized there was a problem when the boat came back without its passengers.
“On February 14th, 2021 one of our boats was rented out and used to deliver campers to the docks of the Hesquiaht territory. I truly apologize for the risk that this as brought to you and your families,” he wrote.
Fehr accepted responsibility for the boat being where it shouldn’t have been. He told Ha-Shilth-Sa that when they realized what had happened they had to come up with a plan to safely remove the campers from the territory.
“We do not want to put people at risk,” said Fehr.
The resort has taken punitive action with their staff and are working to ensure that incidents like this will not happen again.
“We are revising our procedures and working to ensure that our teams understand the seriousness of this,” said Fehr. “We need to find a way to keep tabs on our boats and we are now questioning whether our boats should be rentable or not.”
Charleson is grateful that Fehr stepped up and accepted responsibility. He thanked Fehr for taking ownership and for reaching out to Hesquiaht.
But in a new twist, Tofino Resort + Marina received confirmation that one of its food and beverage workers tested positive for COVID-19. The positive test results came a week after the Family Day weekend, so Charleson feels confident that Hesquiaht people are safe. According to Charleson, Island Health told him possible exposure dates at the resort were Feb. 16 and 17.
“This is the exact reason we have closed our territories,” said Charleson, adding that the boat came from a place that had a COVID-19 exposure.
Charleson says that Hesquiaht has a designated person to check boats that are coming to the community docks. They will take temperatures and information.
Fehr said that Tofino Resort + Marina has closed its bar, restaurant and resort earlier this week to help keep the community safe in accordance with provincial health advisories. The resort is expected to re-open March 8 and the restaurant on March 12.
Fehr says that this incident has opened their eyes to the potential for danger. He says the Tofino Resort + Marina believes that their values should be aligned with Hesquiaht and other local communities.
“This incident is truly unfortunate but it is something we take full responsibility for,” he added.
But with one confirmed case in Tofino, locals are left to wonder who has been in contact with that person and if there are more unknown cases and carriers of COVID-19 nearby.