British Columbia

One of B.C.'s smallest First Nations set to increase Metro Vancouver's industrial land supply

The Kwikwetlem First Nation is building an industrial business park in Port Coquitlam to address Metro Vancouver's shortage of industrial use land and boost the economic development of their band.

Industrial market in Metro Vancouver lowest in North America, according to commercial estate firm Avison Young

Alexis Grace designed the the comprehensive health and wellness facility that will be the centrepiece of the new industrial business park in Port Coquitlam. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

The demand for housing and affordable land is squeezing out needed industrial land, but one of B.C.'s smallest First Nations could help solve one of Metro Vancouver's biggest land challenges.

The industrial market in Metro Vancouver is the lowest in North America, according to a review by the commercial real estate firm Avison Young, putting jobs and exports at risk in the region.

But the Kwikwetlem band is hoping to help offset that with an 88 hectare industrial, business park at 2650 Pitt River Road.

The First Nation has a population of 60 residents living on reserve and is situated right in the middle of Metro Vancouver, in Port Coquitlam, making it an ideal place for industrial land, according to Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart.

The business park is on reserve land and Chief Ron Giesbrecht says his vision for the development includes a film studio, a hotel, a health centre and commercial offices and warehouses for trucking and cargo.

"We've got a lot of band members working here and they're just thrilled. When they go home and talk about their day working on their own land and helping the community succeed, they're very proud of all their opportunities that will be created from this," Giesbrecht said.

Kwikwetlem First Nation Chief Ron Giesbrecht is excited to see his community growing economically with this new opportunity to create an 88 hectare industrial business park on reserve land. (CBC)

Five thousand jobs are expected to be created once the industrial park is up and running,  according to Giesbrecht.

He says its centrepiece will be a comprehensive health and wellness facility.

Alexis Grace, an Indigenous woman from Seabird Island, designed the health building and says it's a symbolic contribution to the community.

"We want to contribute to this community that we call home and the health facility... to say that's us. We've done this. Not only have we done this, we've done it in a really good way, in a way that's empowering to us as Indigenous people," said Grace, who is also the health director for the Kwikwetlem First Nation. 

A rendering of the comprehensive health and wellness facility designed by Alexis Grace, an Indigenous woman from Seabird Island and health director for the Kwikwetlem First Nation. (Kwikwetlem First Nation)

The First Nation does not have an existing health centre, so its residents have to travel to various parts of the Tri-Cities to get medical care. This facility will employ hundreds of people and provide care to thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents of the area, Grace says.

In 2014, concerns were raised about how money in the community was distributed after revelations Giesbrecht was paid a bonus of $800,000 while acting as the economic development officer and band chief.

This week a band representative told the CBC that Giesbrecht will not be getting a bonus for this project.

Giesbrecht said the industrial developments will provide community members with jobs and careers. 

Thirty acres are ready to be leased now, but the band is still waiting on Indigenous Services Canada to approve those parts of the project. 

First Nations reserves in Canada are Crown-owned, meaning they can't own, only lease out their land. Further, their lands are subject to additional approvals from the federal government.

"This community that has been in the backwater for 150 years, and being able to access the value of this land through development gives them an equal playing field in society," said David Leitch who heads up the Kwikwetlem development.

Despite the barriers to ownership of land for First Nations, Chief Giesbrecht is confident change is in the air.

"I think across Canada everybody's surprised that First Nations are taking that step forward in economic development and opportunities within their own resources."

The chief says he's hopeful  parts of the industrial park will be completed within a year.

To hear the full interview with CBC's Angela Sterritt listen to media below:

With files from Angela Sterritt, The Early Edition

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