Tla'amin Nation submits conditional offer to buy paper mill on site of ancestral village

·3 min read
A former paper mill in Powell River, pictured, is up for sale and the Tla'amin Nation intends to buy the property on which it sits, which is an ancestral village. (Submitted by Dillon Johnson - image credit)
A former paper mill in Powell River, pictured, is up for sale and the Tla'amin Nation intends to buy the property on which it sits, which is an ancestral village. (Submitted by Dillon Johnson - image credit)

A former Powell River paper mill up for sale sits on the site of tiskʷat, the Tla'amin Nation's ancient village. Now, in a bid to buy back the land, the nation has sent a letter of intent to Paper Excellence, the current owner of the property.

The nation is aware of several other groups interested in buying the land, but elected leader of the Tla'amin Nation, Dillon Johnson, feels they are the "only logical" next owners.

"This is an opportunity that is six generations in the making, where we can reclaim our ancestral village site of tiskʷat," said Johnson.

"We want to balance the priorities of today, which is restoring the salmon run and tidying up some of the environmental issues, but also bringing economic prosperity to the whole region."

Submitted by Dillon Johnson
Submitted by Dillon Johnson

The 121-hectare property, located on the Sunshine Coast in B.C., is currently home to the paper mill, decommissioned concrete warships, and a landfill.

If successful, Johnson hopes it will soon be home to a salmon ladder and a green energy facility. The Tla'amin Nation has established a memorandum of understanding with Pacific Hydrogen Canada for a potential green energy project at the site.

Johnson says the nation wants to explore other potential options for areas of the property not currently occupied by industrial facilities, such as park land or forestry.

The Catalyst Paper tiskwat mill produced paper for more than 100 years before it was temporarily shut down at the start of the pandemic.

Partial operations resumed in 2021, bringing back 200 of the more than 320 workers, but the mill shut down indefinitely earlier this year. It was listed for sale this spring.

Powell River Mayor Dave Formosa, told CBC News at the time he was "shocked" that Paper Excellence would list the property after months of discussion between the company, Renewable Hydrogen Canada, and the province.

Formosa said Paper Excellence led him to believe the hydrogen company would be in line to take over the property.

Graham Kissack, vice president of corporate communications for Paper Excellence, told CBC News previously that the listing was part of the company's due diligence process, and that no firm agreements on the land's future had taken place.

"If somebody knocked on your door and wanted to buy your house, you probably wouldn't turn around and sell it to the first buyer," he said.

"You'd engage an expert to help you understand what it's worth and to properly market it."

Submitted by Eldon Haggarty
Submitted by Eldon Haggarty

Johnson did not specify the amount Tla'amin Nation offered. Paper Excellence did not provide a comment on the nation's offer.

"What we've offered is enough to further the conversation," Johnson said.

The offer is conditional on what it will take to maintain the property due to the aging infrastructure and industrial waste currently on the site.

Johnson said taking on this project can be risky, but he is confident his nation's partnerships with Pacific Hydrogen Canada, the province, and the government of Canada will support this vision.

"We've been shut out of our village site for 130 years now and we have an opportunity to reclaim it," he said.

"We're deadly serious about our letter of intent."