A portable sawmill slated to arrive in Ahousaht by the end of November will provide locally harvested and milled material to build a visitor centre and small gallery in the community, writes Sarah Douziech in the Westerly News.

Visitors to Ahousaht will soon have access to a one-stop shop for information about the community’s living cultural trail on Flores Island.

The First Nation recently received a $45,000 grant from the Nuu-chah-nulth tribal council to go toward building a visitor centre in the community for the Wild Side Trail.
It will be the first building to use wood exclusively from the community’s new sawmill, slated to arrive by the end of the month.

Ahousaht elected chief John Frank has said the mill will address several community needs including housing repairs and construction while building capacity for the community to be increasingly self-sufficient over the long term.

The centre is meant to give the Ahousaht a chance to educate visitors about their culture, according to Stephanie Hughes, with Ecotrust Canada, who has worked with elders, elected band council and other community members to develop a plan and design for the centre.

“It’s a complete Ahousaht project,” Hughes said.

The trail is the only living cultural trail in Canada, she added, and has been used for spiritual practices as well as traditional food and medicinal plant gathering by the Ahousaht for hundreds of years.

When you walk on that trail, in any given day you could bump into members of the community,” she said. “It’s a real artery for the nation.”

The idea for the centre came after Parks Canada, the Ahp-cii-uk Initiative (through NTC), the Ahousaht First Nation and Ecotrust spent the summer restoring the trail that fell into disrepair about nine years ago, Hughes said.

The cultural trail runs along the southern coast of Flores Island through Gibson Marine Park to Flores Island Park, culminating at a beach facing Cow Bay.

With the restored trail poised to attract more visitors to the community, the Ahousaht identified a need to have a place where tourists could register and pay trail fees to hike, access public washrooms and find out more about the heritage of the trail, Hughes said.

They also expressed a desire for the centre to house a small gallery and a 1-800 water taxi dispatch service. A multi-page website, as part of a marketing strategy, will soon be on line to help inform potential visitors about the 1-800 service and the trail.

“There has been a real concern for Ahousaht to ensure that the bulk of the tourists who are coming over to Ahousaht and into the territory, use the water taxis that are Ahousaht owned and operated,” Hughes explained.

For Frank, additional tourist traffic to Ahousaht has its pros and cons.

“We’ve given up our privacy, but we gain knowledge of the rest of the world, to see and share our beauty,” he said. “It’s giving up some and gaining some.”

Projects like the visitor centre, which will be the first to use wood locally harvested and milled in its construction, are enabling the community to stand on its own again after facing suicide and housing crises in recent years.

Frank said the centre will allow the community to expose its friendliness and rich heritage as well as the challenges it faces to the general public.

“It will have people aware of what the real picture is and to hear the real story from our side,” Frank said.

For example, Frank said witnessing first-hand the reality of Ahousaht’s housing situation — overcrowded houses wrought with mold issues — will foster greater awareness, and hopefully bring stronger support for change.

“Come here today and come here ten years from now,” Frank said. “We have plans.”