Oak Bay Council and Songhees Council Announce a shared approach to developing a vision for Willows Beach (Sitchanalth)

March 15, 2022

Oak Bay Council and Songhees Council Announce a shared approach to developing a vision for Willows Beach (Sitchanalth)

Songhees Chief Ron Sam and Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch today announced the creation of the “Sitchanalth / Willows Shared Knowledge Project,” a joint project supported through a grant from the Province and Heritage BC.

This project is specific to the area known for time immemorial as Sitchanalth, now known widely as Willows Beach and Willows Park.  One intention of the initiative is that the shared learning will inform how the District and the Songhees First Nation can together manage future land use changes. Another intention is to act as a possible model for other local governments working with First Nations partners. This project will involve Songhees Chief, Council, staff, and knowledge keepers as well as District Mayor, Council and staff. The project will develop a shared understanding of the site to enable an inclusive approach to change management to the benefit of the Songhees First Nation, the District and people across the region.

“Oak Bay Council is actively looking to support reconciliation, and this initiative is an exciting opportunity to work on an area identified as a priority by one of our First Nations neighbours,” stated Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch. “We recognize reconciliation is an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships, and this is just one step in developing the relationship between our communities. We look forward to working cooperatively and allowing the opportunity for shared knowledge to inform future land use decisions.”

“Songhees Nation is excited to be working together with Mayor and Council of Oak Bay on this important initiative” said Songhees Nation Chief Ron Sam.  “This is very important land and foreshore for all Ləkʷ̓ əŋən-speaking people, both for its history as a village site and for its connectivity to TI’ches, our islands immediately offshore. We appreciate Oak Bay’s efforts at a government-to-government relationship but much work remains, and this is a start of building that relationship.”

Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Murray Rankin also commented. “I am so glad the Province, through both policy and funding, is able to support meaningful reconciliation work like this. Shared approaches to lands and open dialogue are the best way to establish positive relationships for the decades to come. Sitchanalth / Willows is a place of great interest to the Songhees, Oak Bay, and people from across the region; it’s exciting to see what will come from this shared approach to planning on this site.”

Sitchanalth holds deep historic, cultural, social, and spiritual values for Indigenous people. Understanding these values is key to guiding future changes on this land. There is also a need to reflect the long pre-colonial history of this area more accurately through signage and language as well as explore ways to restore cultural activities of importance to the Ləkʷ̓ əŋən people.

The park and beach are also of significant aesthetic, recreational, and social value to residents of Oak Bay, the Capital Regional District, Vancouver Island, and indeed, visitors to the Island. The foreshore is contained within the federal Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The park and beach provide green space, many recreational opportunities, and are long-standing social and community gathering places. This site is notable for hosting a Welcoming Ceremony with Songhees Nation in 2015, the first in over a century. It also hosts an annual fair which draws tens of thousands from across Vancouver Island. This project has the potential to provide a regional example of new and different ways of sharing and respecting history and in planning for the future.

The Sitchanalth / Willows Shared Knowledge Project is expected to start this spring with the selection of a facilitator and joint development of the project framework. The project will conclude prior to July 30, 2024. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Province of British Columbia through the 150 Time Immemorial Grant Program; this grant through Heritage BC will fund $40,000 of the estimated $50,000 project.

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For media inquiries, please call:

Kevin Murdoch, Mayor                                 Samantha Dean
District of Oak Bay                                         Songhees Nation             
250-896-4983                                                  250-386-1043