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Squamish land mix-up unpleasant for owners

Multiple residents on ten-acre parcel find out they don't own their land

It's not actually yours.

That's the message Squamish residents Ulrika Moodie and Rollie Clarke received about their rural Squamish home last Wednesday.

After buying and making numerous improvements on their home and five-acre parcel of land in the Squamish Valley a few years ago, two provincial bureaucrats and a member of the Squamish Nation arrived on their doorstep to tell them a clerical surveying error dating back to early in the 20th century means the house they bought is on Squamish First Nations land.

"We were literally shocked because we bought the property here three years ago and there was nothing said about anything like this," said Moodie. "We bought when property prices were high and so we said 'You mean this is not our land?' and they said 'No, not really.' Obviously that was a bit of a shock."

Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob said the band has known for years about the surveying inconsistency that caused the error. It was discovered during a land code process through which First Nation groups can displace the Department of Indian Affairs from the management of their lands.

"We did some research twenty plus years ago," said Jacob. "There had been a number of different surveyors that had gone through that particular reserve ...some of them showed trespass, others didn't show the trespass, so there was no real imperative to force anything at that time."

The parcel of land in question is located at Mile-10 on Squamish Valley Road, sandwiched to the north and south by reserve titles. According to provincial government documents released by the Ministry of Forests, Mines and Lands, the error was made in 1917 and carried forward unnoticed over the years until picked up by the Squamish Nation. The government is currently working to solve the problem.

"The options that we are providing for the land owners are that we will work to transfer the lands to the federal government, the provincial government and then to each of the individual owners," said Ministry of Forests, Mines and Lands Minister Pat Bell.

"We will cover all of the costs associated with transfer of those lands. We'll ensure that they don't have any out-of-pocket expenses as a result of it. In fact, if they have any challenges with their mortgage holders or lenders, the province will step in and guarantee those mortgages in that interim period."

A second option available to land owners is allowing the province to purchase their properties at fair market value if they wish to leave. In this case the province will cover any moving expenses that could be incurred as a result.

The Squamish First Nation tribal council hasn't met to discuss how they will handle the issue. Jacob said it would gather sometime in the next week. It's likely the province will compensate property owners with a piece of land of similar value and Jacob dismissed the idea of reclamation.

"We're not in this thing to kick them out," he said with a laugh. "We knew a lot of years ago that there was the potential (that they owned the land) but we never pursued it, so they shouldn't go to the nth and think that bad things are going to happen."

Moodie and Clarke are currently seeking legal advice to guide them through the process. Because they have a hefty mortgage and have made significant investments in their home and lands, they are concerned they will be left in limbo for too long.

"I'm worried that what they say will be taken care of in a timely manner will not be timely for us," continued Moodie.

"We're just people working hard to make a living and we didn't really need this hassle."