Chapter closes for Newcastle Island Society

Newcastle Island Society announces effort to get recognition for the island has fizzled and it plans to wind up operations in the new year.

  • Jan. 10, 2016 8:00 p.m.

A volunteer organization that’s set out to protect and preserve the features of Nanaimo’s Newcastle Island for 31 years has announced it’s set to wind-up in the new year.

The Newcastle Island Society has announced it’ll fold, amid news its three-year effort to earn the island recognition as a Canadian historic landscape of significance fell flat without support from the Snuneymuxw First Nation.

The society, struck in 1985 and originally in charge of managing the island’s pavilion, has become dedicated to not only enhancing, protecting and preserving the historical and natural features of the island but educating the public about them.

It wanted to see Newcastle, which has a history that spans first nations to coal mining, Japanese saltery and destination resort, recognized as a place of cultural significance but the process, through National Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada. While those like the City of Nanaimo and B.C. Parks did support the initiative, it required the support of the SFN to move ahead. A press release says no reason was given by the SFN for their rejection and the society is “profoundly disappointed” to learn the SFN is unwilling to support the recognition of the island.

Bill Merilees, society spokesman, also told the News Bulletin the society will wind up operations, and an annual general meeting in the early new year will be the end. He said it’s running out of money, but also feels its done what it can with the resources it has and it hasn’t identified any future projects it can be involved with because the committee managing the island —a tripartite board of the City of Nanaimo, B.C. Parks and Snuneymuxw First Nation — is not functioning.

“We tried to replace some signs over there and upgrade some signs, we cannot do this until we have the permission of the board. The board has met only once in five years, so the management board in our eyes is just not functioning,” he said. “We’ve had no success and basically we are just going to wind up and fold our tent.”

Members of B.C. Parks nor Snuneymuxw First Nation could be reached for comment. Tracy Samra, city chief administrative officer, said it’s been a long time since that table has been convened. She’s not sure why. She did say the SFN, city and port authority are talking about tourism Maffeo Sutton and Newcastle so as they move through visioning and discussion eventually it’ll trigger a board meeting with all three parties.

The Newcastle Island Society still plans to put out research its done on a Japanese saltery that had been on the island and the original coal mining town at Midden Bay, and hopes to see a roundtable forum where people can express interest and ideas around the waterfront and harbor.