Local Business

Taste of the Island

Island Gourmet Trails leads culinary enthusiasts to amazing local discoveries.

John Snyder isn’t your typical environmental activist.  A solid, viagra sale
silver-haired man with an easy, about it
warm smile and no-nonsense manner, Snyder is a former truck-driver and card-holding Teamster from Alaska.  He moved to Fanny Bay in 2005 with his Canadian wife, hoping for a comfortable retirement in this quiet seaside community of around 700.  Aside from union involvement, Snyder had never been part of any movement of any kind, nor considered himself particularly ‘green.’

All that changed last October when he attended a community meeting to learn more about a proposed coal mine in his neighborhood.

One of the first things he discovered was that this is a big project:  Compliance Energy Corporation, a Vancouver-based company working in partnership with Korean and Japanese investors, is proposing to dig more than 2,200,000 tonnes of coal a year for the next 20 years out of an underground mine in a valley overlooking Fanny Bay.  The mine will cover 200 hectares on the surface and 3,100 hectares underground, and will operate 24 hours a day.  The coal will likely be shipped by truck to Port Alberni and then by ship to China, where it will be used in steel production.

Snyder was concerned about his well, which had almost run dry the previous summer.  Might a coal mine make this worse?  Indeed, it might, he learned at the meeting.  And there were a whole lot of other things a coal mine just might do.  None sounded good to Snyder.

Never mind his well—now Snyder was worried about air pollution from toxic coal dust, which can cause or exacerbate health problems ranging from black lung disease to asthma; noise pollution; water pollution that could poison salmon-bearing streams, groundwater, and the ocean waters of Baynes Sound; increased highway traffic;  adverse impacts on the local shellfish industry; decreased property values; dangers associated with methane gas in the mine; and something nasty called acid mine drainage (ADM), a type of long-term toxic leakage that can continue long after a mine has closed down, necessitating long-term, expensive remediation efforts.  Not to mention the mine’s contribution to global warming.

Today, Snyder is Chair of CoalWatch, the Fanny Bay-based community organization that formed to oppose the coal mine after the October meeting.  Part of his job includes talking with the media, which is why he’s sitting with me on a picnic table at the Buckley Bay ferry terminal on a July afternoon, answering questions and enjoying the sunny skies, sparkling ocean and cheerful hubbub of ferry passengers.

With a steering committee of 14 who meet regularly at each others’ homes or in the Fanny Bay Community Hall, CoalWatch is as grassroots as you can get.

“It seems that most of us who are really involved live on Tozer Road,” says Snyder with a laugh.  He gestures with his head toward Ship’s Point, a peninsula snaking off of Vancouver Island just to the south of where we’re sitting, which houses Tozer Road, a bucolic country lane that dead-ends in a stand of Douglas Firs.  “That’s the hotbed over there,” he adds, grinning.

CoalWatch may be markedly local, but it has a mailing list of 350-400 concerned citizens, not just from Fanny Bay.  “If people think this is just the problem of little Fanny Bay, I’m sorry to say they are mistaken,” says Snyder.

He points out that Compliance has rights over a large area extending up to Cumberland, including several possible other mine sites.  One of these is the Bear Coal Deposit, about 10 kilometres northwest of Raven, which also would produce metallurgical coal, but with an open pit, rather than underground.  No proposal has been submitted for this mine, but the Compliance website states, “It is anticipated that it would be developed in conjunction with the Raven Deposit.”

Although the Raven project is still in the planning stages, many individuals and organizations are voicing their opposition, or at the least, watching the situation closely.

The BC Shellfish Growers Association (BCSGA) passed a resolution opposing the mine, on the grounds that heavy metals and other toxic runoff could compromise this thriving local industry, which depends on clean waters.   Baynes Sound (the waters between Vancouver Island and Denman Island) houses 51 per cent of BC’s annual shellfish harvest.  The local shellfishery is valued at $17 million annually and employs more than 500 people in jobs that will be around long after the miners pack up and leave, says Roberta Stevenson, BCSGA President.

Neighboring Denman Island, whose western shore is just 6.2 kilometres from the proposed mine, has launched a barrage of opposition from its governing body, the Local Trust Committee, its Residents’ Association, Marine Stewardship Committee, and United Church, and has spawned its own citizens’ group, Denman Island Opposes Coal (DOC), which is working diligently to stop the mine.

Many governing bodies in the region, including the Rural Directors of the Comox Valley Regional District, the Courtenay Council, the Town of Qualicum Beach, the Village of Cumberland, Comox Town Council and The Islands Trust Council have formally expressed concerns, calling for more detailed studies and assessment or simply opposing the project outright.

Environmental groups such as the Wilderness Committee, Sierra Club BC, and Comox Valley Conservation Strategies Planning Association (a consortium of eight organizations) have been speaking out against the mine.   In June, a group of activists demonstrated outside Compliance offices during the company’s board meeting, protesting the proposed Raven mine.

Concern from outside the region tends to focus on the implications of opening a new coal mine—the first in almost 25 years—on Vancouver Island, at a time when reliance on fossil fuels looks increasingly short-sighted.

“This campaign is not just about one coal mine in the Comox Valley,” says Tria Donaldson, Pacific campaign coordinator for the Wilderness Committee.  “At the heart of our concern is the pure hypocrisy of expanding our fossil fuel industry while claiming to be climate leaders.

“The government of BC has set lofty goals of reducing our provincial emissions by 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020.  The massive planned expansion of coal mines like Raven Coal undoes any work done on the climate front.  If we don’t want to burn coal in Canada because of climate change, how is shipping it off to China to get burned any better?” she adds.

Although most of the coal from the Raven Mine would probably not be used as fuel, virtually all its carbon dioxide, the culprit in global warming, is still released into the atmosphere during the steel-making process.  As well, the transportation of the coal—an estimated 98 trucks coming, and 98 going, per day (that’s one leaving every 15 minutes) plus 20 ships coming in and out of Port Alberni—leaves its own considerable carbon footprint.

Beyond the local issues, this is a debate about the direction of BC’s economy and its approach to sustainable resource management.

“I wouldn’t be putting so much time into this if I hadn’t realized that this goes a lot further than my own backyard,” says Snyder, who estimates that he spends 20 to 30 hours a week on CoalWatch business.

British Columbia is North America’s biggest coal exporter, and critics say it is time to change course.  “Maybe it’s time to look at saying no new coal mines, period,” says Snyder.

“I’m not under any illusions that we’re going to quickly transition to a totally green economy,” he adds. “But we can start making moves in that direction.  People do need jobs, so maybe it’s time to start asking the government to create green jobs.”

Denman Islander Patti Willis saw the big picture right away.  A founding member of Denman Island Opposes Coal, Willis has a background that puts her in sharp contrast to John Snyder—she’s a veteran activist with more than 35 years experience engaging in, and often running, peace, forest protection, anti-mining, conservation, and other social justice and environmental campaigns, both locally and internationally.  Early this August she was honored with a Stewardship Award from the Islands Trust in recognition of her many years of community service.

Willis says this campaign is different than any other she’s been part of.  “The fact that it is 2010 changes the complexion of this.  People are looking at these things with a new lens—the lens of climate change.  They are asking, ‘Do I want to perpetuate this kind of reliance on fossil fuels?’

“One reason we haven’t seen any group come out seriously in favor of this is that there’s a widespread level of concern and wariness that there never used to be.   It’s hard to come out in favor of coal of any kind.”

Willis says the Raven Coal Mine represents the biggest environmental threat Denman Island has seen in at least half a century, and Islanders are clearly very concerned.  DOC has about 20 active members and a mailing list of 100; at a June community meeting, close to 200 people showed up, packing the hall, and not a single speaker supported the mine.

While opposition to the mine may seem deafening, especially from the “hotbeds” of resistance on Tozer Road and Denman Island, Compliance Coal Corporation remains confident that the concerns are either unfounded or can be dealt with.

“Our job is to be able to answer the questions that those people are posing.  From the very beginning we’ve been committed to being transparent throughout the process and to developing this in a socially and environmentally responsible manner,” says Compliance CEO and President John Tapics in a phone interview.

“It’s very early in the process and we’ve been completing a number of studies that cover a broad spectrum of areas; all of those studies and information will be available to the public,” says Tapics.

Although he is certainly aware of the opposition, Tapics says many people welcome the mine.   “There’s a lot of support out there,” he says.  “We’ve had over 100 job applications from individuals and contractors looking for employment.  We’ve heard lots of positive interest at public meetings and there have been a number of letters to the editor in various papers from individuals indicating they believe this type of employment is necessary in the area and they support us.”

Employment is definitely the big draw for those who support the proposed mine.  “The coal mine will create real jobs for people with families that will buy houses and help refill our schools… this will encourage our younger residents to stay here instead of moving to Alberta where the money is,” writes Kim Morton in a letter to the Qualicum publication, The Beacon.

The project website (see below) has FAQs and information sheets offering responses to various concerns.  For every point raised by opponents, Compliance offers a solution, a rebuttal or a commitment to study the issue further.

For instance, in response to concerns about coal dust pollution, Compliance states: “The project team will work closely with the community to minimize or eliminate potential impacts from coal dust.  All coal transportation trucks will be covered and modern technologies will be used to ensure dust control.  An environmental management plan will be put in place to manage dust emissions and air quality will be monitored throughout the life of the project.”

Concerns about the effects of coal washing—which separates dirt and non-coal rock from the coal—include both the amount of groundwater it uses, and the potentially toxic run-off.  Compliance responds:  “It is estimated that 330 to 490 cubic metres of water will be used per day for coal washing.  This is equivalent to the amount of water a medium to large hotel uses in an average day.  Almost all the water used is expected to be recycled.  Any water released will meet or be better than government water quality standards.  A comprehensive water management plan will be implemented to safely and efficiently manage all water requirements.”

And so on, point counter point, for each topic. Snyder, however, finds these responses insufficient.  He and his colleagues are in dialogue with Compliance, but their hopes of stopping the mine are pinned on both the Federal and Provincial governments.

To move forward, the project must successfully pass through complex environmental review processes both provincially and federally.  In theory, either of these could stop the mine—although there is no precedent for this in BC, says DOC’s Willis.

“They have never turned down a mine at the environmental review stage in BC,” she says.   Still, she remains optimistic. “Ultimately, it will come down to the citizens; it’s so important for the citizens to be vigilant and to comment.  The government needs to know we’re watching this; they need to know our concerns,” she says.

Both the Federal and the BC environmental reviews include periods for public input.  Willis and Snyder encourage people to express their concerns both in writing, which has a more formal impact, and by showing up and speaking at public meetings, which makes a bolder, more public statement.

As the public review process gets underway, CoalWatch will provide guidance on its website for members of the public wanting to take part.

The review process itself is controversial.  CoalWatch and its allies are pressing to have the federal process upgraded from its current form (called a Comprehensive Federal Review) to a more stringent level, called the Full Expert Panel Review, which will include public hearings along with the opportunity to have scientists, mining engineers and other experts present their testimony.

“This is the most exhaustive form of review and from our point of view this deserves nothing less because it is so far reaching in terms of who it affects and how it affects the environment,” says Snyder.  As well, almost all the concerned parties are calling for thorough mapping of aquifers, and scientific studies of how they would be impacted by the mine.

In the meantime, things are getting more complicated.  Much to many people’s surprise, on July 19, the Federal Office of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency  (CEAA) commenced a public comment period for the proposed mine, with no public notice other than a posting on the CEAA website.

Within days Snyder had fired off a letter of protest to Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice and spoken on CBC Radio’s On the Island, as well as local radio stations JET FM and The Eagle.

Snyder’s got quite a long list of complaints about the timing of this process: he points out that the proposal for the mine is not even complete, that the key background document is not yet available, that the public can’t properly evaluate the project without aquifer mapping, that there has been no public advertising of the public comments period, and that the project warrants a Full Expert Review Panel.

Annie Roy, CEAA spokesperson, speaking on CBC radio, said the 30-day limit for public comment will be measured from the day the full proposal and background document are posted on the CEAA website, but that no public advertising of this would take place.  She did not comment on the other issues.

In his letter, Snyder calls the CEAA to task, stating, “The surprise announcement on July 19 creates the impression that the federal government intends to pursue a hasty and far less rigorous assessment than the proposal warrants,” and he firmly but politely asks the Minister to “restore public confidence” by moving ahead with the Full Expert Panel Review and with aquifer mapping.

This type of swift, decisive response suggests CoalWatch knows how to be a fierce opponent.

“We’re not going away,” says Snyder.  “We’re under no illusion that we’ll stop this mine in the early stages, but we’re prepared to go the whole route.  Sure, it’s a David and Goliath situation—we’re just a small group up against a bunch of guys whose lunch budget is probably more than our annual income.  But I am hopeful that this mine can be stopped.”

He points out that local shellfish farming already provides twice as many jobs as the mine promises, and that these are connected to a sustainable industry which may be threatened by the mine.  It’s a lot easier to preserve these jobs than to build a mine that would put them, and so much else, at risk, he says.

“We live in paradise, in the land of plenty.  To jeopardize this for a couple hundred coal mining jobs doesn’t make sense.”

Snyder may not have been an environmental activist this time last year, but he sure sounds like one now.  Whether he and his many allies will actually stop the Raven Underground Coal Mine remains to be seen, but clearly, he’s not going to give up.

For more information:

This summer Island Gourmet Trails launched the Comox Valley’s first culinary tour operation.  Designed to “immerse the participant in the local culture and reveal the Island’s true spirit, urologist
” the custom-made tours will take you to visit a wide variety of local food and beverage producers.  The business is the creation of Gaetane Palardy, dosage
a Montreal-born chef and educator who moved to the Comox Valley in June, 2008.

According to Palardy, your tour might start with a stroll through a bustling farmer’s market, then visit a world-renowned cheese factory. Maybe you will roll up your sleeves to create traditional artisan pasta.

You might wander over to an oyster or scallop farm, head down to the docks to meet the fishermen coming in with the day’s catch or have a gourmet picnic. Later, you might choose to meander through an organic berry or vegetable patch.  One thing’s for sure, you will experience the taste of Vancouver Island.

“This project is combining my experience in food and tourism and education.  It is kind of a mix of all my previous experience and my love for discovering things, including discovering back roads,” says Palardy, noting that the roots of her interest in food began at home.

“I have always been interested in food,” she says.  “Going back to my earliest memories, I remember watching my mother cook, bake, preserve and entertain.  These experiences, along with helping my family grow and harvest our own food, inspired me.”

“This project is combining my experience in food and tourism and education,” says Gaetane Palardy, leading her group for a tour of Beaufort Vineyard and Estate Winery. “I have always been interested in food.”

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Her formal entry into the food world began with her professional cooking certificate from Institut de Tourisme et d’Hôtellerie du Québec (Quebec Tourism and Hotel Institute), one of Canada’s leading chef training facilities.  Her resume includes work in the kitchens of many fine hotels, including the ultra-luxurious Mandarin Hotel in Vancouver.

Palardy moved to Vancouver to work as part of the team being assembled for the Hotel Vancouver’s Roof Restaurant during Expo ‘86.  This contract, which she expected to last six months and help her to improve her English, turned out to be a permanent move to British Columbia and a pivotal point that would later lead her to the Comox Valley.

At the Roof Restaurant Palardy worked with chef Ronald St. Pierre and became friends with him and his then new girlfriend, Tricia.   Once Tricia and Ronald settled in the Comox Valley, Palardy visited often, sowing the seeds for her eventual decision to move here.   The three long-time friends have worked together to develop the business idea of a Comox Valley culinary tour operation.  The St. Pierres’ restaurant, Locals, is a certified BC Culinary Tourism Association destination.  The Courtenay restaurant opened in 2008 and specializes in providing a unique dining experience utilizing “Food from the Heart of the Valley”.

In addition to the restaurant industry, Palardy has also spent a number of years working in education.  She had returned to work at the Hotel Vancouver in 1989 but, as she explains, over the next 10 years she found her focus was shifting.  “I wanted to go into teaching because in my job as a sous chef at the hotel I was doing a lot of work with the apprentices and training.  So I took some education courses and got my provincial adult education instructor diploma.”  That diploma led her to move to Prince George, where she taught culinary arts at the College of New Caledonia for eight years.

Combined with her work skills Palardy adds her own experience as a traveller to her creation of a tourism product on Vancouver Island.  “When I travel, I enjoy visiting local food markets, from going to the fish auction in Sydney, Australia, visiting the spice souk of Dubai, the date market in Abu Dhabi or taking a Cajun cooking class in New Orleans. Food always gives the tone to my trips.”

Palardy elaborates on one particular experience that made her think about providing a similar tour back home:  “When I went to Australia, there is the Victoria Market in Melbourne and there was a guided tour of the market.  And I thought ‘Gee, that’s a neat idea.  We should have that in BC.’  I lived in Vancouver at the time and I was thinking of Granville Island and thinking maybe one day I’ll do that.”

Thus it is no surprise that the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market is featured in Island Gourmet Trails’ tours.  The Saturday morning market is the launching point for the half day Taste of the Comox Valley tour.  After breakfast, coffee and a guided tour of the market, where you’ll meet the vendors, the tour takes you to the Beaufort Vineyard and Estate Winery and the Blue Moon Estate Winery to meet the owners and sample their products.

Custom-made tours running on Wednesday are very likely to stop at the afternoon Farmers’ Market.  The range of options for the custom tours is extensive as the Valley has hundreds of farms and a growing list of interesting food and beverage producers.  In addition to land-based farms, tours can include oyster and scallop producers, bakeries, cheese and chocolate makers, coffee roasters, cafes and restaurants.

Culinary tourism is a new but growing concept and thus, in mid-July, Island Gourmet Trails, in collaboration with Locals Restaurant, provided an opportunity for local media and tourism operators to experience a day-long culinary tour.  From the moment I read the itinerary my curiosity and taste buds were stimulated.

Our day began at Rhodos Coffee Roasting Company in Courtenay; we then boarded a van to visit Surgenor Brewing and Aquatec Seafood in Comox, then were on to Nature’s Way Farm north of Courtenay, which also encompasses Blue Moon Estate Fruit Winery and Tria Culinary Studio.  After a lovely picnic lunch of local foods we travelled south to Island View Lavender in Union Bay and Royston’s Innisfree Farm and Royston Roasting Company.  We concluded our excursion with an exquisite dinner at Locals Restaurant in Courtenay.

It was a superb introduction to culinary touring that included interesting conversations with the various company’s owners and staff and generous samplings of their products.  Palardy was a knowledgeable and entertaining guide who thoughtfully provided us with everything we needed—from background information, to water, sun screen and an umbrella for shade.  Tricia St. Pierre took care of the driving so Palardy could concentrate on providing commentary.

We learned a tremendous amount about each place; the following are simply some of my highlights: Discovering that Rhodos Coffee Roasting Company not only serves great organic Fair Trade coffee but also makes their own gelato.  One popular flavor is created using Island View Lavender.  Bob Surgenor’s sense of humor made for a wonderful visit filled with laughter.  Surgenor Brewery makes great beer and their newest, In Seine Pale Ale, is delicious.  Aquatec Seafood is a 35-year old family-run business that provides visitors and locals with a custom fish processing and shipping service.  We happily sampled their various award-winning smoked salmon products at the Hooked on Seafood retail store.

Marla Limousin describes their combined operations as “food, farm and wine under one roof.”  Limousin runs Natures’ Way Farm, her husband George Ehrler takes care of operations at the Blue Moon Estate Winery, and chef Kathy Jerritt offers cooking classes, catering and private dinners in the Tria Culinary Studio.  The studio is a very inviting kitchen and dining area adjacent to the wine shop/farm gate store.  It was with great sadness that we learned that the monthly Full Moon Feasts are already sold out for 2010.  Our sadness was soon turned to joy as we toured the fields and Marla invited us to eat as many tay berries—a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry—as we liked.

I think it is safe to say that Innisfree Farm dispelled any stereotypes that we may have had about farms.  Thierry Vrain and his partner Chanchal Cabrera bought the property about five years ago and they are well on the way to transforming it into a must see culinary/agri-tourism destination.  They are combining vegetable, fruit, nut and Christmas tree cultivation with horticultural therapy, medicinal herb production, apprenticeship and seed saver programs, and one of BC’s largest labyrinths planted in Blue Fescue grasses.

The afternoon got even more relaxing when we stopped at Island View Lavender in Union Bay.  Owner Kathleen Kinasewich began by telling us about her house, the oldest home in Union Bay.  She then walked us through the A to Z of lavender species, 22 of which she grows.  Kathleen also offers a unique living mandala workshop, where participants create succulent wreaths.  We all left happy with a lovely bouquet of fresh picked lavender.

Gary and Dyan Spink were wrapping up a very busy day greeting people partaking in the 30 Day Food Challenge, but they happily put on a new pot of coffee and gave us a tour of their facilities.  The Royston Roasting Company makes four types of coffee and specializes in custom labeling orders for businesses or personal gift giving.  Their elegant Ozturk roaster imported from Turkey gives the small facility an aura of serious coffee buzz.

Chef Ronald St. Pierre has been working in the Comox Valley for 20 years but Locals Restaurant is his first solo venture.   In two short years it has gained a reputation for excellence that is now being discovered across the country—they were recently featured in Where to Eat in Canada.  This notoriety comes as no surprise to our group, who was treated to a fantastic three course meal featuring local fish, produce, pasta and fruit.

Palardy explains why Locals is a natural fit with her tours:  “I like to take my visitors to their restaurant because they commit themselves to showcase local producers, the same ones where I take my visitors,” she says.  “There’s nothing better than trying a scallop dish when we visited the Island Scallops in the afternoon, or finishing the meal with a lavender gelato using the lavender of Island View Lavender Farm.”

One thing stood out for all of us—the Island Gourmet Trails culinary tours would suit both visitors and locals wishing to be tourists in their own region.

“It’s opened my eyes,” says Sarah Nicholson from Tourism Mount Washington.  “I think we are all very blasé at times and living in an area and not experiencing it, but we have some incredible hidden gems in the Valley.  I would strongly recommend anybody doing this tour.  It’s ideal for all ages, there is something for everybody, and the really great aspect is they can be custom designed.”

Al Morton, a volunteer with the Comox Valley Visitor Centre, particularly enjoyed hearing people’s stories.  “I guess the biggest thing is the interesting people that I met.  I mean we’ve really run into a lot of very interesting people, in many cases it seems to be a secondary career or third thing they’ve done.  They all have these interesting backgrounds.”

Linda Oprica, a business and executive coach, was on the tour representing the Comox Valley Airport Commission.  She was enthusiastic about the contribution Island Gourmet Trails could make to the Comox Valley:  “The concept that she has put together is really phenomenal,” she says.  “It is a wonderful event for two people to a bus full of people; it’s great for locals.  I think it will actually revitalize tourism in the Valley because it really is all about tourism in the Valley—agriculture and culture and different communities in the Valley, so I think it will revitalize it.  I think it is outstanding.”

Palardy is constantly enlarging her network of destinations.  She has also partnered with three other companies to offer a package that includes a vacation rental on Comox Bay, sailing trips and training, a guided nature walk and a culinary tour.  This package, as with all her tours, is provided in either English or French.

For more information visit: www.islandgourmettrails.ca