January 31, 2018 9:45 pm
Updated: February 1, 2018 12:51 am

Canada’s most valuable private island at centre of B.C. First Nation’s land claim

James Island near Saanich, the most valuable private island in Canada, is the focus of a First Nations land claim. Kylie Stanton reports.

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The most valuable private island in the country is now at the centre of a First Nations land claim.

James Island, located near Vancouver Island, is registered to J.I. Properties Inc., a company owned by Seattle-based telecommunications billionaire Craig McCaw.

The private island includes a main residence, a half-dozen guest homes, an airstrip and a golf course designed by legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus. It’s been on and off the real estate market for years, with an assessed value of $54.4 million.

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READ MORE: Vancouver Island First Nation accepts $50M land settlement from federal government

McCaw bought it in 1994 for $19 million, but in documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court, the Tsawout First Nation says it has never surrendered James Island or the title and rights guaranteed by an 1852 treaty with then-Vancouver Island Gov. James Douglas.

“Rather than it being set aside as a reserve, a number of settlers got title to it,” John Gailus, the lawyer for the Tsawout First Nation, said.

The 1,600-member First Nation is seeking the return of the island, which it says once included a village site, burial ground, vegetable fields, berry patches and access to hunting and fishing grounds.

“The relief that we’re seeking is a declaration that it ought to have been reserved as a village site under the treaty as well as damages of loss of use since about 1780,” Gailus said.

READ MORE: First Nations group lays claim to all lands associated with Riverview Hospital

Along with a request for damages, the First Nation also seeks an order for J.I. Properties to transfer James Island to the Tsawout and it calls on Canada and British Columbia to compensate the company for handing over the land.

“Now is the time,” Anna Walkus of Tsawout First Nation said. “It will make our people proud to get back what belonged to us.”

In a statement, the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation said:

“The province is required to respond to Tsawout’s notice of claim through the court. However, as part of our commitment to reconciliation, the province will also reach out to Tsawout to seek to resolve these issues outside of the court, government to government, based on building a respectful relationship.”

None of the claims have been considered in court.

While James Island isn’t currently on the market, the sale price from the most recent listing was $75 million.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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