As citizens of Canada and stewards of its landscape, it is not unusual for us to talk to government leaders and write letters suggesting where to focus energy and tax money to ensure sustainability of our sources of drinking water, the stability of the banks on which some of our homes are built, the wildlife cycles that keep animal and plant species wild and free, etc. But every so often, there a collective voice speaks and is not heard.

The story of Shawnigan Lake is one in which grandparents rise and dress for long hours out of doors, mothers stand in the rain with their children strapped to their chests, and residents take time off work all taking up the work of activists. But the citizens of Shawnigan Lake in the Cowichan Valley on Vancover Island are not activists. Never have been. They have written thousands of letters, attended public meetings, signed petitions sent to and ignored by their Minister of Environment, organized rallies, applied to the BC Supreme Court, and still, permits have been upheld by the Environmental Appeal Board and supported by the Minister of Environment. And still, the company that continues to dump toxic, contaminated soil into the headwaters of their drinking water source is open for business. And so, the residents wake early, and leave late, taking shifts from dark to dark to stand in front of the 40-tonne semis transporting the contaminated soil.

The story began with a permit in 2008—one granted to South Island Aggregates (SIA), a company selling gravel and aggregate to Victoria and throughout the Cowachin Valley. The deal was, they had to remediate it back to residential or forestry standards when they were done with the land. But in 2012, a different plan unraveled, one that some believe was in place from the beginning. The BC Ministry of Environment (MoE) granted SIA, a.k.a. Cobble Hill Holding (CHH) permission to apply for the permit, and in August 2013, the company was given permission to start their operation, dumping 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil per year for 50 years at the south end of Shawnigan Lake.

The site was never zoned for a dumping site by local government, and for good reason—it is situated at the headwaters of Shawnigan Lake. Over the past four years, residents have received a lot of misinformation about what is protecting them. The 450 feet of “impermeable rock” between the site and the stream that feeds the lake is but one example. Upon further examination, that “impermeable rock” turned out to be fractured bedrock.

On November 13, 2015, a no-water use advisory was put into effect for the residents living on the south end of Shawnigan Lake—water was not to be used for drinking, bathing, or food preparation. Overflow of the water from the dump-site ended up in the stream feeding the lake. Among the toxins being dumped: lead, arsenic, heavy metals, including aluminum, furans, phenols, and dioxins. Though the Ministry of Environment, Mary Polak, and the Environmental Appeal Board assure residents the permit will protect them, SIA/CHH is repeatedly non-compliant and no monitoring process has been put in place to make sure they are following agreed-upon guidelines. Also, the waters of Shawnigan lake are part of the watershed that runs into the ocean at Saanich Inlet. This is not a local problem. It’s a travesty to the environment. Willful damage, inflicted outright for profit.

B.C. leader, including Ms. Polak, attended COP21, the recent climate change summit in Paris. She was among those who pledged to take action to put solutions in place to look after the environment; however, burying our waste, hoping the problem goes away is short sighted. Their presence at Paris’ conference is inauthentic if our leaders believe the actions at Shawnigan Lake are acceptable. If we are going to use a bury-the-waste approach instead of investing in technologies to clean it or help in reducing its production, we better ensure that we are choosing to bury it carefully, in a manner that truly protects people until we know a better way.

Shawnigan Lake is close to our hearts at Mission LED. It is the center of a vibrant community, our water source, a sanctuary of wildlife, and these actions are devastating to the individuals and families who call it home. We have to ask ourselves, is this setting a precedent for future agreements; one where the voices of those set to gain profit are more important than the ones who love where they live and want to protect it? Why are our policies and government not protecting the very things that make our land inhabitable. What happens after 50 years and 50,000,000 tonnes of contaminated soil has been buried here and there is no more money available to ensure the site is safe? Every day, we are doing everything we can to stand up for what we believe is right—protecting what is precious and what we cannot get back if we destroy it.

To find out more about this story, visit the Shawnigan Lake Director’s site:

Or, to support this cause, write a letter to your editor:
Victoria Times Colonist:
Cowichan Valley Citizen:
Cowichan News Leader:
Island Tides:
Victoria News:
Vancouver Sun:
Vancouver Province:
The Globe and Mail:
National Post:
Shawnigan Focus:
South Cowichan Echo:

About The Author

John Keirstead
John Keirstead
Serial Entrepreneur, Technologist and Inventor.
My objective is to develop useful products that have a net positive effect in the lives of those that use them and the environment that we live in.
CEO of Mission LED Lighting Company Ltd.


  1. Pat Creighton

    December 31, 2015 at 11:35 am

    The “warning” pushed onto the province by the SRA was about a settlement of iron oxide coming out of a pipe below the quarry, and turbidity showing in other photos not identified. Turbidity would be natural coming out of a quarry rain runoff at the best of times because it is just dust from former blasting that was happening at the quarry and is still happening at others around the lake. When I try to point out that there is no basis for calling the fill, or any other part of the quarry as being “contaminated”, I get this type of response, rather than an actual answer or explanation: ” Shawnigan Res. Assoc
    Dec 30
    @shawn_again please block @Pat_Creighton as each time he tags you in his notes his messages get spread to your followers. shut him down”

    Now if they are being honest with the residents of Shawnigan Lake, why would they have to do this? This organization is not displaying genuine interest in the truth.

    The “contaminated soil” being dumped into the quarry is composed of ordinary soil with a bit of runoff from the sulphur piles you seen around the water line in the Vancouver area. While someone did take a photo of the sulphur coming out of soil on the barges bringing it to the island, there was so little to show that the picture quickly faded off the SRA websites. And both the sulphur in the soil being dumped, and the iron oxide, (remember your old iron skillet?), are non toxic.…/pyrethrin…/sulfur-ext.html Perhaps the residents are looking for something that looks pretty, and doesn’t upset their sensibilities, but carries bird flu, like the wildlife living on that recreational lake they claim is so pristine at the moment?

    As long as the SRA needs to stifle comments and questions by people such as myself they are hiding the truth and their dishonesty is making them look extremely uneducated on this topic. Our friends and family WON’T be contributing to their cause because while they want to claim to be “like Greenpeace” they are just wannabees, and even Greenpeace is doing so badly with its new lack of credibility that it is being kicked out of countries like India. Now if only we could kick the SRA out of Canada, we would be doing well. They do, after all, have people stirring the pot who don’t have legal Canadian status, nor are they proficient in geology.

    • John Keirstead

      January 4, 2016 at 10:09 am

      Hello Pat,

      Thanks for taking the time to visit our website and for commenting on our recent post. While you may find your comments removed on other sites they won’t be from the Mission’s site, we believe that everyone is entitled to their voice.

      The permit that has been granted to SIA does allow for contaminated soil to be dumped at this site and the containment meant to safeguard the lake and all who rely on it as a source of drinking water and recreation, is not working.

      I’m curious, how do you know the contents of the soil?… your facts are conflicting with ours and our sources. If you and your are family are drinking from the lake, I might suggest you consult a larger range of reliable sources to know the truth.

      For those of us that call Shawnigan Lake our home, there is no room for debate, as our lives depend on us being correct. It is my belief that 50 years of 100,000 tons of contaminated soil being buried in a spot where it can affect our watershed is a risk too great for this community to bear, both now and to future generations.

      It is our belief that there are many better choices for dealing with this type of contaminated soil. It could be cleaned up at source. This would ensure that there would not be two contaminated sites and save freight costs both monetary and environmentally. A more suitable inland solution could be found, that is not near people.

      Clean water, clean air and sustainable lifestyles is what we at Mission are trying to protect and promote…Surely Pat, you don’t debate the merits of that?

      John Keirstead

    • Nameless Faceless

      January 4, 2016 at 10:15 am

      Clearly you missed the independent water sampling taken by the Green Party MLA, Mr. Andrew Weaver. The “iron dust” you make reference to has indeed shown to have high levels of toxic heavy metals. NO ONE really knows what is really buried on lot 21 except the operators of sia. Look at the companies’ history and tell me you trust them. I can also only assume that you yourself do not live within the Shawnigan basin? I implore you and others of a doubtful mindset to carefully review ALL information currently available and draw a rational conclusion rather than attacking a noble cause, smearing it and comparing it to the likes of Greenpeace. Which I personally find utterly innane.

    • Felix

      November 4, 2016 at 7:45 pm

      Pat, just on a side note, why on earth are you so angry and reactive? Why do you get booted off so many blogs? Maybe dial down the rabid tapping on the keyboard and get some help. Holy cow.

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