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Lower Lillooet hot springs dealt to First Nations

$1.7 million St. Agnes Wells site part of In-shuck-ch treaty package
Whether St. Agnes Wells will remain open to the public is up for debate after purchase of the site by the federal government for In-shuck-ch First Nations. Photo by Vivian Moreau

A 146-acre riverfront parcel of Lower Lillooet River land containing the historic St. Agnes Wells hot springs has been purchased for $1.7 million by the federal government as part of a treaty package for In-shuck-ch First Nations in the Lower Lillooet valley.

The isolated hot spring property 63 kilometres south of Pemberton, sandwiched between a gravel forestry road and Lillooet River, has been owned by Abbotsford-based logging company head Alan Trethewey since the 1950s. The purchase links together a 65-kilometre linear stretch of land that is part of ongoing treaty negotiations involving In-shuck-ch, and federal and provincial governments.

In-shuck-ch consist of Xa’xtsa (Douglas), Samahquam (Baptiste-Smith) and Skatin (Skookumchuk) communities and are currently in stage five of the six-stage treaty negotiations, expected to take effect in three years.

The property sale was an amicable deal, federal negotiator Tim Koepke said, the importance of which was underlined by In-shuck-ch’s willingness to have the $1.7 million selling price subtracted from future treaty payouts.

“If it’s important enough for them to say we’ll pay for it out of our treaty proceeds then I think that’s a pretty good indication (of their good will), Koepke said.

In addition to the hot springs, which pump 25,000 gallons of 54-degree Celsius water daily, the property has 2,600 feet of river frontage, its own airstrip, generator, a primitive campground, two cabins, an 1,800-sq. ft. workshop and a river-crossing cable car.

But an 80-page property appraisal says although the property valued at $2.1 million “represents a private and desirable recreational property” its large-scale commercial viability is questionable, based on remoteness and lack of accessibility. In-shuck-ch chief negotiator Eppa (Gerard) Peters said the property is significant for other reasons.

“The least of which is economic,” Peters said. “It was culturally important and significant to my people and because… it became private property and ultimately it’s going to be property of the In-shuck-ch Nation then I will have to make some determination about what to do with it.” Peters said opinion is divided amongst In-shuck-ch whether to develop the property or leave it as is, and a study will be undertaken to determine what is the best use for the property.

In the interim an on-site caretaker has been hired to maintain the site. In the past a primitive campsite has been available to the public but it has not yet been decided if that arrangement will continue in the long term, although for the moment it is “business as usual,” Peters said.

St. Agnes Wells hot springs were officially named by Judge Matthew Begby and his assistant Arthur Bushby in 1859 after Agnes Douglas, Bushby’s later wife and daughter of Sir James Douglas, first Governor of the colony of British Columbia.