Who’s welcome in your backyard?

Cowichan gets another shot at overcoming NIMBYism by approving a shelter for women.

Last week, the board of Cowichan Valley School District voted to lease a vacant building to the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society for the purpose of sheltering homeless women through the coldest winter months.

In some ways the move is a no-brainer. Yet, the board still deserves a hearty round of applause for making this call. The Cowichan Valley would have a cold-weather shelter for women already, if not for the predictable resistance from neighbours. Public outcry has quashed two shelter proposals in the last two years.

This one, which awaits approval from the Municipality of North Cowichan, may still face an uphill battle. The plan is for the shelter to take over the old concession stand at Cowichan Place, next to Wendy’s House, where the school district runs the Strong Start program for young children and their parents.

In a letter to the Wendy’s House community, the school district emphasized that it did not take the decision lightly. It said that there will be a buffer of several hours between the operating times of the shelter and the Strong Start programs. Additionally, shelter staff will be on site around the clock during the week, and will ensure that any garbage in the vicinity of the shelter and Wendy’s House is removed.

On Wednesday, North Cowichan voted unanimously to hold a public meeting on whether or not it should grant a three-year permit to allow the shelter operations. I expect there will be some who come to say, “Not in my backyard.” I say “not in my backyard” to this: women sleeping in the rain because it still feels safer than the alternatives, including the Warmland House shelter, which is open to people of all genders. 

For a roof over everyone’s head, I hope we can all say, “Yes. In our backyard.”

News of the week

  • 🍞Small Block Brewing is using unsold bread from Cowichan grocery stores to make upcycled beer, thanks to a proposal by the Cowichan Green Community. The brew, dubbed Rye-Cycle, is a surprise hit, CHEK News reports.
  • 🐻Bear sightings are up as the animals work to put on fat before winter, the Cowichan Valley Citizen reports. B.C. conservation officers remind residents to keep yards free of fallen fruit and garbage so that bears can stay wild.
  • 🏆RCMP officers in the North Cowichan/Duncan detachment punched above their weight at a recent B.C. RCMP awards ceremony, netting 23 commendations, the Cowichan Valley Citizen reports.

Meet your neighbours

Icel Dobell wants to make sure a piece of the forest she loves is still there for future generations.


Icel Dobell has hiked Stoney Hill for as long as she’s been able to walk. What does she love about this place? You might as well ask what she loves about being alive, she says. “I love that when I’m in a forest, I feel a hundred percent connected to life. To me, it’s the one place in the world where there’s absolute quiet and my thoughts just settle and there’s just space.”

Stoney Hill sits on the Cowichan Valley’s coast, beyond Mount Tzouhalem. The Salish Sea curls around it from Maple Bay to Genoa Bay. Its forests are largely part of the North Cowichan’s forest reserve, which also includes Mount Prevost, Mount Sicker, Mount Tzouhalem, Mount Richards, and Maple Mountain. The municipality currently allows for up to two percent of its forests to be logged every year.

Several weeks ago, residents of Stoney Hill discovered neon flagging tape marking two blocks of trees, scheduled for clear-cutting next year. They weren’t expecting it. Icel and a loose coalition of individuals and groups have since launched a petition to ask the municipality to consult with First Nations, scientists, and the public before any more of the municipal forest is cut. The group will present to council on Dec. 19.

The group agrees that the public has a right to input, not on a specific outcome. But Icel personally would like to see the logging in the municipal forests stop completely. “If we keep doing this, we will be leaving, I feel, a disaster for our children,” she says. Climate change and invasive species have changed what we thought we knew about managing forests. “If we wipe them out, they don’t grow back into intact, natural forests. They come back as these sort of facsimiles of a forest, but they’re not a real forest.”

Icel points out that the Cowichan Valley is in a unique position to decide the future of these public lands. Very few municipalities in North America have ownership over local forests, managed explicitly for the benefit of residents, as North Cowichan does. “We’re in a time of political despair. People feel they can’t make a difference, that their politicians aren’t listening to them, that people are lying.” Here, in our backyard, there’s hope. “It’s just an extraordinary situation in the world, where a community can actually come together and do something important.”

Let’s gather

  • Nov. 22: The Cowichan Watershed Board will host Voices of our Watershed, a series of rapid-fire presentations by local waters stewards.
  • Nov. 23 to 29: Island Health wants to know how healthcare can be improved in your community. It has drop-in info sessions planned in Duncan, Shawnigan Lake, Ladysmith and Lake Cowichan.
  • Nov. 24: The Young Agrarians want to help farmers find land, and land owners find people to farm it. They’re hosting a land linking workshop and community potluck, where you can learn more.
  • Nov. 26: Social Planning Cowichan will host another round of its workshop on reconciliation, called The Village Project: The Journey of Our Generation, in Ladysmith. Recommended for anyone who hasn’t already attended!
  • Nov. 28: The Cowichan Lake Trailblazers will host an info session and networking event about plans to expand cycling and hiking trail networks in the Cowichan Lake region.


Community members gathered at Collective Space in Duncan last week to talk about journalism in the Cowichan Valley.


Thanks to everyone who came for a few minutes or a few hours to our event last week. Our discussion on how journalists can do a better job serving the Cowichan Valley was intelligent, insightful and kind.

Big ups to Kerry Davis, Alison Nicholson, Cody Wicks, Belinda Kissack, Chris Istace, John Scull, Ian Morrison, Tim Macdonald and Azja Jones Martin. You’re all heroes for sharing your time and rich knowledge. Let’s do it again, soon! [end]

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