Last week, the Municipality of North Cowichan council sat for more than 13 hours over two evenings for a public hearing on the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit’s plans to rezone its property to make way for a major expansion of the track. Supporters and opponents of the proposal stayed well past midnight on Oct. 4 to share their views on the motorsport circuit.
The hearing was contentious. The public filled the great majority of the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre’s 731 seats. Many chose to wear a pale yellow carnation, indicating views in support of the motorsport circuit, or a pink sticker with the word “NO”, in opposition. The council ultimately denied the application.
Many people who spoke at the hearing, on both sides, lamented how the issue has divided the community. The conversation on social media has, at times, gotten ugly. But The Discourse Cowichan spoke with both supporters and opponents at the hearing, and these conversations revealed a more complicated truth. Many of the people I spoke to showed nuance in their perspectives, and a level of empathy for those who might disagree.
Here’s some of what I heard.
Paul Slade, resident of Sahtlam
“We definitely hear the track. At times, it’s quite loud and persistent. There’s lots of places where it is very, very loud, as you get closer to the track.
“We have had a couple of family weddings at our property. We have a property that we fixed up so we could do that. And when we were getting ready, prior to the last one we had, which was in 2017, my wife phoned [the motorsport circuit], because it was very loud. At that point they hadn’t done anything about keeping it down. And she was quite concerned, of course, that when we were going to have the wedding, at the time of the vows, that they would be overpowered by the noise from the track.”
“And so she phoned, and talked to the manager at the time, and they had a great discussion. He was very accommodating, and they said, OK, what’s the date, what’s the time that you think it’s going to be, and they were very accommodating. In fact, he offered to bring one of the high-end cars to deliver the bride and have on site. Which was really, really nice.”
“If it affects one person, then it affects everybody. You should support people when injustices are being done. I just would like to think that everybody has the seeds of fairness and justice in them, and that they can consider the other sides.”
Ted Richter, resident of Cowichan Bay
“I support the track. I’ve been a car nut since forever. Driving at age 12, back on the prairies. I was involved in a project in Regina to build a similar circuit. We had the land donated to us. We were out there in the freezing cold, doing the surveying. Never did come to fruition. We couldn’t come up with the money. We were a young group, young guys, and it just didn’t happen. [The track] is just fabulous, from an automotive point of view. I have a son and a grandson, and I want both of them to take the accident avoidance and the slippery condition courses, so they can handle a car. This is the wet country and bad things happen. And the better trained you are to react properly, the better it will be for everybody. And I think a lot of people are missing that.”
“I understand. [The opponents are] living there. They’ve invested in those properties.”
“I would like to go sit in their patio and just discuss with them what’s going on. And try and make them understand the benefits of this. That you can’t just have a little colony in the midst of a bigger colony that runs its own little government, and runs its own little ideas. I think, nobody’s trying to be unfair. The track has my vote.”
Kathy Mercer, resident of Sahtlam
“I can’t live with the noise any more. I live right across Highway 18 from the track. My backyard is at the same elevation as the back straight stretch, and the noise is unbearable. I’ve had enough of it.”
“[Track supporters] think we’re a bunch of whiners. But yet, when I invite them, and offer them to come and listen to the noise, they don’t. They tell me to sell my home to someone else who enjoys the track experience. So I said, fine, make me an offer. Nobody does. Nobody wants to live with it. If you like motorsports, you go to it. You don’t live on it.”
“I don’t think [the track supporters are] well informed. I don’t think they really know the issues. Either that or — I hate to think that they all have a lack of compassion for others who are exposed to it.”
“Even if it all goes away, I’ll move away. It’s just destroyed. I don’t enjoy it any more.”
Jaxon Vaccher, resident of Mill Bay
“I’m here because I’m in support of the circuit. I’m a former employee of the circuit, so it’s got a bit of a special place in my heart. And, cars have always been my life and so has racing, and performance driving in general. It’s been something I’ve always done.”
“[The people who oppose the track are] all lovely people, if I’m being completely honest. In my experiences with running into people who don’t support the track, they know we’re part of the community, still. And they will still treat you as a proper citizen. They don’t really treat you any different, and at least I don’t treat the people against the circuit any different, either.”
“I actually know a couple people who oppose the track, and they’re friends of mine. We do have opposing views of the circuit, but it doesn’t get in the way of my relationship with them. I know that, in the end, everyone here is just a community. They may have different views, but in the end we’re just all members of the Cowichan Valley, here to better the Valley, according to one view or another.”
The Discourse Cowichan has offered in-depth coverage on the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit issue since early 2018. At that time it came to our attention that the local newspaper had been avoiding critical coverage, apparently to avoid upsetting advertisers. See more of our ongoing coverage here.