Petition seeks support for gondola on Mount Benson

Petition seeks support for gondola on Mount Benson

Local realtor estimates a gondola would cost $15-$20 million.

An aerial cable car system providing spectacular views and year-round access to the top of Mount Benson. It’s an idea that Nanaimo realtor Jim Johnson has thought about for years.

“I was born and raised in Nanaimo and ever since I was young I’ve wanted to get a tram up there and it’s just been on the back burner for many years,” Johnson said.

Inspired by the recent events centre referendum, Johnson and his son, Shayd, have spent hours researching various gondola and tram systems around the world and contacting officials in cities where those systems currently exist. They’ve also started an online petition on change.org in an effort to gauge public and private interest in gondola or aerial tramway for the mountain.

“All I want to do is be the guy that facilitates bringing everybody to the table and allowing a place for the community to gather around so there can be open disclosure and communication between all parties of the community like First Nations,” Johnson said.

The petition proposes a gondola station built at the tourist information centre on Northfield Road. The gondola’s route would travel southwest toward Jingle Pot Road where it would pass near a hydro substation and then continue onward to the top of the mountain.

“With the way that Nanaimo has grown, we feel that this could be a great asset to the community. We started looking at numbers and doing our preliminary research over the last few months and discovered that a project of this calibre would only cost between $16-$25 million. The Sea to Sky gondola project was only $18 million, but cost an extra $2 million because of cost overruns,” said Shayd Johnson, who serves as a spokesman for the petition.

Shayd said a gondola could operate year-round and would make the mountain accessible for everyone, even those with disabilities. He said in addition to the recreational opportunities that a gondola would provide, it would also give Nanaimo a unique tourist attraction.

“Everybody passes by Nanaimo because there is nothing particularly offered to tourists in terms of activities that they can’t do elsewhere,” he said. “Yes, there is the Sea to Sky gondola in Squamish, but we don’t have anything quite like that on Vancouver Island. We just thought this would be a great idea.”

Shayd said his father has had conversations with the City of Nanaimo, Tourism Nanaimo and the Regional District of Nanaimo about the idea, but nothing concrete has come from those discussions, adding that the focus is on reaching out to the community.

“We want to get in touch with mountain bike groups, hiking groups, anybody who would use this as a recreational opportunity and then as well as potential operators,” he said. “Then we want to build up some relations with the Snuneymuxw First Nations as well to incorporate some kind of First Nations museum.”

The Johnsons hope the petition gains enough support to eventually lead to a feasibility study on the idea.

reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com