A lease for land on Semiahmoo First Nation property that has been used for decades by members of the Royal Canadian Legion as a campground is being terminated.
According to an Aug. 23 letter to trailer owners at the New Westminster Legion War Memorial Campground, the band “is also demanding payment for utility upgrades, as well (as) lease payments for the periods when campers were prohibited from accessing the Campground.”
The campground – located at 16327 Beach Rd. – has historically been open for six months of the year. Since the pandemic began, however, it has not resumed normal operations.
Judy Hakes said that initially, news of the lease termination included that she and other campers would have a specific time slot on a weekend day in September to remove their trailers and any other structures, as well as remediate the land. In addition to having an appointment, they could only bring a helper if the person was double-vaccinated, she said.
Hakes, who has had a trailer at the campground for 18 years, said those terms and the short notice were “pretty unfair,” particularly given that many members are seniors.
“It’s very, very heartbreaking the way this is being handled,” she said. “I’m 72 years old. How am I supposed to take a structure down in one day?”
Things are now in apparent limbo, however, with notice last Friday (Sept. 3) that the matter is in the hands of lawyers.
“They’re not letting anyone go down at all,” Hakes said.
Tuesday (Sept. 7), in response to Peace Arch News’ requests for comment, band council confirmed the closure is “now a legal matter.”
“Semiahmoo First Nation is trying to get a reasonable solution to the issue of unpaid rent from the Legion. The Nation and the Legion are in the middle of negotiations and we cannot comment until an agreement is reached,” the statement reads.
“The individual tenants are of the Legion not the Nation,” the statement adds.
Legion officials declined to comment, describing the situation as “a private matter” between RCL Branch #2 and the SFN.
Hakes said the lease was paid for the 2019-2020 season – when the sites weren’t accessible due to COVID-19 – but that a request to renew it for 2020-2021 went unanswered. She said a May 2021 letter to trailer owners from the legion advises of a requirement by the SFN that the legion pay an estimated $800,000 for the sites to be hooked up to new infrastructure, and that the cost would translate to an estimated $10,000-per-site levy. Even with payment, there would only be a two-year verbal lease, she said.
Hakes said the campground has been “a nice little getaway” that she had hoped to soon share with her granddaughter.
“We put a lot of money into the upkeep of the land,” she added. “It was totally a community. Now, we can’t even say goodbye.”
Hakes said she understands and respects the band’s right to do what they wish with their land, but said she doesn’t understand why the matter is being handled the way it is.
“It would be really nice if they would just say, ‘take your time, you have to leave unless you have $10,000.’”
She is not the only one with concerns.
Terra Brown’s trailer has been at the campground for 12 years. She described the handling of the closure as “absurd.”
“It is their land, no one’s disputing that,” she said. “It’s just how they’re treating everyone.”
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