Huu-ay-aht urges Province to upgrade Bamfield Road following release of report on 2019 UVic bus accident

Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. talks to Premier John Horgan and MLA and Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser at the site of the 2019 UVic bus accident. The Premier travelled the road in the fall of 2019 and met with Huu-ay-aht First Nations.

Huu-ay-aht First Nations strongly supports the recommendations made in an independent report released today by the University of Victoria (UVic), but calls on the province to make the necessary safety improvements to the Bamfield Road.

The recently released report is in response to the bus accident on the Bamfield Main logging road September 2019 that claimed the lives of students John Geerdes and Emma Machado. It makes recommendations that will address travel policies for UVic, but it falls short when it comes to demanding upgrades to the dangerous road.

“The report refers to the road as dangerous and makes recommendations on steps they can take to travel it more safely, but what we really need are significant improvements to the road itself,” explains Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. “No one else should lose their life on this road. It is time to chipseal it and make it safe for everyone who travels it.”

The 85-kilometre logging road is extremely dangerous. Chief Dennis believes that if the road had been upgraded prior to the UVic trip last fall, the bus would not have rolled down the embankment. He stresses that recommendations like using pilot cars and not travelling at night will not make the road safe for everyone. If the province wants to honour the memory of these young adults, it must move forward on the chipsealing of the Bamfield Road.

Last fall, Premier John Horgan travelled the road to Bamfield and agreed that safety improvements are needed. Huu-ay-aht First Nations has done the planning and engineering and is willing to contribute financially to a project that would see the 85-kilometre logging road chipsealed. Huu-ay-aht believes the time for action is now.

Chief Dennis adds that road improvements could be an economic stimulant for the province, post COVID-19, because it is shovel ready and workers could be on the ground soon if the province chooses to move forward. Investing in these upgrades would create employment and save lives by making the road safer to travel.

Chief Dennis does not want to come across another crash like this one or mourn more lives lost due to dangerous driving conditions.

“This accident was devastating, and as a Nation we felt the loss of these two young students and understand the impact this has had on their families as we have also lost friends and family on the Bamfield Road,” explains Chief Dennis. “UVic has shown respect to the students and their families throughout the process, and we are glad to have this report complete and see the recommendations, many of which echo the requests our Nation has been bringing to the provincial government for decades.”

Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Head Chief Derek Peters) stresses that by committing to following through on today’s recommendations, UVic is honouring the sacred principles of the Huu-ay-aht people: ʔiisaak (utmost respect), ʔuuʔałuk (taking care of), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (everything is connected). He appreciates the support the University has shown to the Bamfield Road project.

“The Machado and Geerdes families have asked that the road improvements be carried out as a legacy to their children instead of any form of memorial,” explains ƛiišin. “Since the road opened in the 1970s, Huu-ay-aht has also lost eight citizens and witnessed countless accidents on the dangerous road – including my grandfather. I would like this project to be done as a legacy for every life that has been lost on the Bamfield Road.” Huu-ay-aht will continue to work with the province, UVic, the Bamfield Marine Science Centre, and Western Forest Products to ensure the road improvements move forward.