Aaron Hamilton shows off a rendering of the Lake Cowichan First Nation's planned Ts'uubaa-asatx Cafe

Aaron Hamilton shows off a rendering of the Lake Cowichan First Nation's planned Ts'uubaa-asatx Cafe

Tour business just the beginning for Lake Cowichan First Nation

The Lake Cowichan First Nation is entering unchartered territory as it moves ahead

The Lake Cowichan First Nation is entering unchartered territory as it moves ahead with its ambitious economic development plans for the community that include an ecotourism business and a lakeside cafe.

Aaron Hamilton, operations manager for the Lake Cowichan First Nation, said about four years ago they began exploring possible development areas, targeting their waterfront property just off North Shore Road as a prime site for possible projects.

During community consultations, LCFN members expressed an interest in ecotourism opportunities.

“We started looking at canoe tours,” said Hamilton.

The LCFN received some training from the Aboriginal Tourism Association of BC and a small group from the band job-shadowed at Talaysay Tours, a company in West Vancouver offering “authentic Aboriginal cultural tourism,” including kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding.

Hamilton said they’ve purchased several kayaks and paddle boards and will be getting a 36-foot canoe that fits 16 people. They hope to have some rentals available by Sunfest.

“It’s definitely a first time that we’ve done any kind of business. So we’re starting small with the aquatic rentals to get our feet wet… then the cafe will be another push into a whole new realm.”

The Ts’uubaa-asatx Cafe will be a two-level structure right on the waterfront along North Shore Road and will offer a “First Nations-infused” menu, featuring items like salmon, bannock and possibly elk. The cafe would primarily focus on light fare — sandwiches and baked goods — but would be licensed.

“So you could have a drink there, take in the view,” said Hamilton, adding they would like to eventually have a marina there as well so boaters could arrive directly off the water.

“The cafe is going to be our showpiece building. It’s really meant to be a beacon,” he said. “It’s going to include a lot of our arts and will incorporate throughout the cafe artifacts about who Ts’uubaa-asatx is.”

Each of the cafe’s two floors will be 1,500 square feet, with the kitchen located on the lower level so as to maximize the number of customers who can be seated with a view of the lake.

The rental boats will be stored in a temporary structure until the cafe is complete, at which time they will be kept in the lower level.

The LCFN is hopeful construction on the cafe will start by next year and be fully open in 2018.

Hamilton said the First Nation has actively sought economic development initiatives for the last 15 or 20 years, and that many outside groups have come to them with grand ideas or proposals that always stop short of actual funding. He said this is why the current plans are so exciting — they’re coming together for real this time.

“At the end of the day, all this economic development is really about the next generation. It’s about providing opportunity,” he said. “Being a small nation, you don’t get the same level of funds that a larger band gets… It’s very challenging, we have very little funds to operate on. So the overall goal is, let’s make our own project. Let’s make things that will make revenue.”

Hamilton said the LCFN also wants to contribute to the local economy.

The late Chief Cyril Livingstone was a huge proponent of economic development according to Hamilton.

“The whole point for economic development for him was to really create something for his grandkids and the next generation that get to live here,” he said. “One thing that he always cautioned was to have a fine balance, so even though we’re doing all this economic development, we’re still ensuring adequate land for future generations.”

There will be a small piece of land adjacent to the Ts’uubaa-asatx Cafe that will be exclusive for LCFN members, so they will always maintain community access to the lake.

Other projects the LCFN is exploring include a health and wellness centre, affordable housing units and market value condos.