April 15, 2021: A Community Conversation Regarding Tsehum Harbour and Tsehum Lagoon

From the invitation to attend the Tsehum Harbour and Lagoon Community conversation on Thursday, April 15, 2021:

In the mid 1800’s as settlers were arriving on the Saanich Peninsula, the sheltered waters and lush foreshores of Tsehum Harbour and Tsehum Lagoon (then known as Shoal Harbour) were prime habitat for waterfowl and many other wild creatures. Flocks of Brant geese interrupted their migrations to rest here and feed. Commercial hunters harvested them so aggressively that by 1930 the numbers of visiting Brant geese were seriously reduced, so much so that the Government of Canada established a Migratory Bird Sanctuary encompassing Tsehum Harbour and Roberts Bay, as it had done a decade earlier along the foreshore of Victoria.

Establishing these two migratory bird sanctuaries was effective in curtailing over-hunting but has not prevented the degradation of the sanctuary itself due to residential and commercial development on its shores. We also realize that the loosely framed and under-enforced bylaws currently in place in both Sidney and North Saanich have not been effective either in preventing harm to the Sanctuary. Ironically, Tsehum Harbour, Tsehum Lagoon and and Roberts Bay, squarely within the Sanctuary, have become three of the most degraded nearshore areas on the Saanich Peninsula due to (partial list):

 Contaminated runoff from storm sewers, streets and highways, waterfront properties, industrial activities

 Cumulative effects of over 3000 pleasure craft moored in the harbour (anti-fouling paint, fuel and lubricants, garbage and other effluvia (particularly Styrofoam particles))

 Loss of shoreline trees (aging plus removals)

 Degradation of beaches due to seawalls and sea-level rise

The day-to -day stewardship of our local natural endowment (our naturehood) has become the responsibility of local municipal governments staffed by people who we know and who live among us. Thus, as voting citizens, we share with them the responsibility for establishing and directing the necessary stewardship.

Here are the “desired outcomes” of this initiative (of which the Community Conversation is a part):

  • Respectful cooperation with the WSANEC Leadership Council and the Tseycum First Nation to ensure that their interests and values are included in this conversation and in the future management/protection of this area.
  • Endorsement by North Saanich and Sidney municipal governments of the Shoreline Protection Act and other associated Coastal Regulations
  • Increased monitoring of the area and more vigorous enforcement of regulations commensurate with its special ecological nature and Development Permit Area regulations.
  • The formation of an Intermunicipal Tsehum Harbour Task Force (Sidney and North Saanich) focusing on enforcement, monitoring and management, community involvement, particpation by both federal and provincial governments and a multi-year budget.
  • Shift Tsehum Harbour and Lagoon from a Development Permit Area to a Special Development Area so as to allow for more specific protections.

These outcomes would not only ensure a prompt and effective response to problems as they arose but also would discourage attempts to circumvent clearly established regulations.

Here is a link to the entire report of the Community Conversation:


Some responses from the 45 +/- attendees are repeated below:

  • Many attendees stressed that monitoring and enforcement is essential and that the current situation must be addressed with a budget and staff commensurate with the Development Permit Area designations and fragile ecological nature of the Harbour and Lagoon.
  • Focus attention on what can be done now.  Don’t wait for the CRD, province or federal government to respond.
  • First Nation rights and interests must be addressed in any go forward option.
  • ‘Stop finger-pointing’ and using the complicated jurisdictions as an excuse to do nothing and ignore the situation.  Do what you can do within your jurisdictions and that in itself will lead to positive change.  ‘Stop blaming and do your job’. ‘Take back your management role and do it’.
    • ‘Perhaps Sidney-North Saanich could co-fund a bylaw officer and boat to ensure that current bylaws and regulations are being monitored and enforced’.  ‘Such a position would also raise the public profile of the situation’.
    • Couldn’t special sensitive zones be demarcated – for eel grass in particular.
  • We are witnessing ‘death by a thousand cuts’. The cumulative nature of this situation is leading to a ‘tipping point’ and we are on the verge of losing ‘the naturalness’ of this important area.
    • There was a suggestion that since Section 17 of the Land Act can designate reserves, withdrawals, notations and prohibitions why not apply Section 17 to the Lagoon portion of the Sanctuary as it is so sensitive?
  • ‘The time to act is now’.  Don’t wait for the CRD to get the proposed Harbours Initiative in place.
    • As an aside, a number of attendees voiced concern about the CRD Harbours Initiative and that it will be a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ and ‘besides spending lots of money on reports nothing will happen’.  It was seen as a measure that staff would embrace more than the public.
  • Tsehum Harbour and Lagoon and Roberts Bay aren’t mutually exclusive. Success will only be achieved through cooperation and alignment of policy and practices. ‘I sure hope that Sidney and North Saanich wake up and work together’.
  • The moorage, derelict boat dilemma stems from legislative and organizational changes by the federal government. ‘They have clearly failed’. 
    • And it is clear that the municipality can make a difference, witness the recent positive actions by North Saanich in relation to the mess near Lillian Hoffar Park.
  • Is it now time for the CWS to update and enhance the Migratory Bird Convention Act and associated Regulations to reflect the current state of the environment so they can address more than harm to bird nests and their eggs.
    • Glad to see the increased attention to off-leash dogs.
  • I don’t understand why housing and development is allowed to encroach right up to the Sanctuary, riparian areas and creeks – clearly in contravention of the current bylaws and regulations.    ‘Where is the will to do the right thing?’  These fringe areas must be protected to conserve the beaches and foreshore.
  • Why aren’t boats registered like vehicles.  There is such a system in Washington State and it is working well.
  • Any management must be framed with the context of climate change and an overall biodiversity strategy for the Peninsula.  
  • We must remember this situation isn’t just local – it is happening up and down the coast. At Coles Bay there is illegal boat moorage now, what a shame.


From the archives of the Environmental Law Centre (University of Victoria)

Editor’s note & acknowledgement: The article published on March 5, 2021 by the Environmental Law Centre Society :is a reminder of the public opposition to a proposal to expand a marina deeper into the Tsehum Lagoon (part of the 1931 Shoal Harbour Migratory bird Sanctuary). The proposal was refused by the North Saanich Council of the day. and the sequence of events that followed led to the formation of the Friends of Shoal Harbour.

We take this opportunity to acknowledge the generous support of the work of Friends of Shoal Harbour offered by the Environmental Law Centre


“This story is the second in a series we’re sharing in 2021 to mark the ELC’s 25th anniversary [ICYMI, our first flashback is here]. We’ll take this time to reflect on milestones and appreciate work done in the past that is making a difference today. These stories demonstrate what we all inherently know: actions we take today reverberate long into the future.ELC Students met with Robert Bateman and Chief Vern jacks at a Migratory Birds Day event at Lillian Hoffar Park, near Tshehum Inlet (2005).

ELC Students met with Robert Bateman and Chief Vern jacks at a Migratory Birds Day event at Lillian Hoffar Park, near Tshehum Inlet (2005). (Photo by Holly Pattison)

Tsehum Inlet Lagoon

In 2005, the ELC helped persuade a local government to save migratory bird habitat on Vancouver Island rather than accepting a proposal to dredge a lagoon and construct a 75-boat marina development.

Located near the BC Ferries terminal in Sidney, BC, Tsehum Inlet lagoon is home to bufflehead, greenwinged teal, peregrine falcons, eagles, herons and more than 30 other species of waterfowl, seabirds, shorebirds and the rare intertidal Jaumea carnosa plant community. Visible along the stretch of highway from the ferry terminal into Sidney, the lagoon is backed by forest and a large marina. It is part of the federal Shoal Harbour National Migratory Bird Sanctuary, established in 1931 as one of the first migratory bird sanctuaries on the pacific coast.

Before the ELC became involved, the local municipal council had given approval in principle and were prepared to amend their OCP and zoning bylaws in order to accommodate a development that would have dredged and removed 2,000 dump tuck loads of sediment, and installed floats and facilities for 75 boats.

Thanks to Governance Action in North Saanich (GAINS), the group of residents who brought this issue to our attention, the ELC was able to identify and object to procedures the council had followed, which resulted in the scheduling of a new public hearing on the issue.

ELC student Derek Simon and ELC Legal Director Calvin Sandborn co-authored an op ed, which helped marshal opposition to the proposal and drew a crowd to Migratory Birds Day event the residents sponsored near the lagoon, which featured famed wildlife artist Robert Bateman and Chief Vern Jacks of the Tseycum First Nation.

In preparing for the public hearing, Derek discovered that the developer did not have a necessary permit from the provincial Director of Fish and Wildlife, which was required by the federal sanctuary legislation. He presented this information at the public hearing, with the supportive of an enthusiastic crowd, and council reversed their earlier position and rejected the proposal.

At the time, Derek said he hoped it would be just the first of a number of public interest cases that he’d work on in his career. He said, “I enjoyed working with a passionate and committed group of local citizens who had such a wide range of expertise and insight on these issues. It was exciting to be able to combine their passion for community and conservation with strong legal and scientific arguments.” He hoped to continue to work with community and conservation groups, First Nations, and local businesses to develop the legal and economic frameworks that are needed to build a sustainable society.

Derek, now a lawyer in Halifax who works almost exclusively in Aboriginal Law says, “As a law student, the opportunity to work with local residents, and to represent them at the council hearing, was highly motivating, and taught me skills that have served me well in my career. I also learned a lot about the laws around protected areas, which has turned out to be a significant area of practice for me, as I now work with my clients on the creation of Indigenous Conserved and Protected Areas, and negotiations with Parks Canada.”

Susan Chandler recently said that the quote she provided at the time on behalf of GAINS has stood the test of time: “Having the support of the UVic Environmental Law Clinic was wonderful. Being able to understand and ask advice about the legal aspects of this case was empowering, and provided a dimension that allowed us to think about our options. Derek was an amazing resource. He was tenacious when navigating the intricacies of the federal and provincial governments, and was a powerful presence at the Council hearing.”

…the natural world is not lost in one fell sweep, or by a single catastrophic decision. We lose it one little piece at a time, one lovely lagoon at a time. We lose it one Council decision at a time, as governments approve a subdivision here, a new mall there, a new marina somewhere else. And then, before you know it, the Island we love will be gone.”

Save the Gateway to Paradise (from op ed written by Calvin Sandborn and Derek Simon, May 2005)