Howe Sound Fact Sheet

Howe Sound

  • Spectacular Howe Sound in the Strait of Georgia is North America’s southernmost fjord. It is located between Metro Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast and extends for 42km from West Vancouver northwards to Squamish.
  • The larger communities in Howe Sound include Bowen Island, Gibsons and Langdale on the Sechelt Peninsula, Horseshoe Bay and Lions Bay on the eastern shoreline and Squamish located at the head of the Sound. Several smaller communities are dotted throughout the area including Britannia, Furry Creek, Brunswick Beach, McNab Creek, Douglas Bay, Brigade Bay, West Bay, Sea Ranch and New Brighton.
  • Many islands and clusters of island are found within Howe Sound, the largest are Bowen Island and Gambier Island, while smaller islands include Keats, Bowyer, Anvil and Passage islands.
  • Howe Sound is Vancouver’s backyard playground for sailing, diving, camping, hiking, fishing and a myriad of other recreational activities. These recreational pursuits support significant economic activity in Howe Sound and surrounding urban areas.
  • Tourists from all over the world are attracted to the Vancouver region and the Sea to Sky corridor, in part as a result of the spectacular scenery of Howe Sound.
  • Film and TV production crews regularly use Howe Sound for filming because of the availability of a “wild” location in such close proximity to Vancouver.



Howe Sound is a beautiful place, wild and remote and still just 30 minutes from Vancouver. It epitomizes Beautiful British Columbia.

Howe Sound Industrial History and Recent Recovery

  • Howe Sound has a history of industrial mismanagement and abuse.
  • The decommissioned copper mine at Britannia Beach, once the largest in the British Empire, discharged considerable toxic effluent including copper, cadmium, iron and zinc into Howe Sound between 1905 and 2001.The area around the mine was described as the “worst point source of mineral contamination in North America” and had a devastating effect on local fish populations. The environment is only now showing signs of recovery. The cost of the Britannia Beach cleanup has already reached $46 million and may well reach $200m, paid for by BC taxpayers.
  • Other industrial users such as pulp mills spent millions of dollars over the last 20 years upgrading their environmental standards.
  • The return on these extensive and costly remediation efforts has only recently become evident with the returning marine life.



It took over $46 Million taxpayer dollars (and counting) and decades to repair Howe Sound’s last major mine in such a sensitive marine setting. Have we learned nothing?

McNab Creek

  • The McNab Creek Valley is located on the west side of Howe Sound between Gibsons and Squamish. It is directly across from the north end of Gambier Island and faces directly onto Thornborough Channel.
  • McNab Creek is one of only three estuaries in Howe Sound. The creek flows through a forested, glacial valley. The alluvial deposits left by the glacial melt water provide a rich habitat for plants, animals and fish. The watershed supports populations of coho, chinook, pink and chum salmon as well as rainbow trout, steelhead trout and other species.
  • Approximately 15 recreational properties are located on the east side of McNab Creek and it is only 2 km directly across the channel from 55 properties at Douglas Bay on Gambier Island.
  • Popular recreational activities at McNab include kayaking, canoeing, sailing and paddle boarding as well as camping, fishing, crabbing, shrimping, hiking, mountain biking, wildlife watching and relaxing on the white sand beach.
  • The area is frequented by boaters from the two yacht club outstations on Gambier, as well as from over a dozen marinas in the area. Children and other campers from the multiple summer camps in the area enjoy the recreational activities on the peaceful waters of the north side of Gambier. Camp Potlach, adjacent to McNab, hosts over 1000 children a year.
  • Wildlife commonly seen in the valley and on the foreshore and beach include bears, deer, eagles, heron, river otters, salmon and an increasing number of sightings of marine mammals including pacific white sided dolphins and orcas have occurred in the adjoining marine area.
  • Roosevelt Elk, a species at risk, were transplanted to McNab Creek by the BC Ministry of Environment in 2001 in an effort to re-introduce the species to the area.



While it feels remote, the area is used extensively by tourism operators, recreational users and film and TV production crews. We logged and abused this land throughout the 50’s and 60’s. It’s finally recovering so is it time to tear it up again?

Quick Facts about the Proposed Mine

  • BURNCO Rock Products Limited of Calgary is proposing a large scale gravel mining and crushing facility at McNab Creek in Howe Sound.
  • The mine is expected to produce 1 to 4 million tonnes per annum of sand and gravel for export over a mine life of 20 years.
  • Initially the processing plant may be active 12 hours per day, 260 days per year, but if demand is there Burnco would like to run 24/7, 365 days a year.
  • Burnco will build a marine loading facility, designed to accommodate 5,000 to 6,000 deadweight tonnage barges. It will consist of a series of pilings that support a fixed, above-ground electric conveyor with a capacity to move 1,000 tonnes of gravel per hour.
  • Burnco plans to use an extraction method, based upon an electrically powered floating clamshell dredge equipped with a primary crusher and a floating conveyor system.
  • In the project’s first phase, a 77 hectare industrial pit will be dug out of the McNab Creek river delta to depths of 55 metres below surface grade and more than 15 metres below the water table.
  • Water will be recycled from settling ponds at an estimated capacity of 15,100 litres per hour.
  • A crushing and processing plant will be constructed in the McNab Valley and the sand and gravel will be processed on site. Processed sand and gravel will be stockpiled prior to loading onto barges by conveyor and transported by barge to plants in Burnaby and Port Kells, British Columbia. Burnco estimates each barge will take 4-6 hours to fill.
  • Filled barges will be towed through the Howe Sound and the Ramilles Channel to the Fraser River.
  • Burnco proposes to remediate the site at closure with a 77 hectare lake, in lieu of the alluvial fan that will never be returned.
  • Want to read an overview of the proposal? You can here.



The proposed mine will REMOVE the majority of the river valley from existance, like it was never there.
Only another glacial deposit would make this excavation “sustainable” or “renewable”.

Yes we all need aggregate and there are two other mines already in operation within 20km either side of this site. Really, do we NEED this?

Potential Impacts of a New Massive Mine

Environmental Impacts

  • The Burnco open pit mine will impact the environment in obvious ways through the loss of and disturbance to the immediate habitat for mammals, fish, plants and birds.
  • The gravel pit will remove the majority of the valley’s alluvial fan and its associated waterways and significantly alter the course of the tributaries and natural watercourses which run across the valley floor and feed into McNab Creek. This will have a negative impact on the freshwater habitat and adjoining land areas and on the animal and plant life that depend on these habitat areas.
  • In June of 2010, DFO determined that the project would result in harmful alteration, disruption or destruction (“HADD”) of fish habitat and advised Burnco that DFO was not prepared to issue a HADD authorization. In response Burnco filed a judicial review application against DFO in BC Supreme Court. Subsequently, DFO agreed to participate in a full environmental review. However, in June, 2011, DFO issued a letter in which they stated that they “continue to have serious concerns about the extent of the impacts to fish and fish habitat that may result from this project” and that “The project presents a high risk to Salmon and Salmon habitat.”
  • There are major concerns about the crushing and loading facilities and associated noise, glare from industrial lighting, vibrations, dust, emissions and destruction or damage to wildlife habitat both terrestrial and aquatic.
  • Noise and vibrations have been found to negatively impact the ability of large marine mammals to communicate, navigate and find food and are increasingly believed to impact their fertility.
  • Nesting eagles and their young are particularly sensitive to noise. The project area is known to have active eagle nests.
  • The area of the McNab foreshore where construction of the barge loading facility is proposed, is considered prime marine habitat.
  • There are 21 species inhabiting the project area (fish, mammals, amphibians, birds and plants) that have been identified by Burnco’s own consultants as being on the Species at Risk list.
    • Of these 21 species at risk, 11 are listed as being of “Special Concern”,
    • 3 are listed as “Threatened” and 1 is considered “Endangered”.
  • In the last two years, for the first time in decades, Grey Whales, Orcas and Pacific White Sided Dolphins have all been observed in Thornborough Channel, next to the McNab foreshore. This is an extremely encouraging sign of the returning health of the region’s ecosystem.


It took decades to recover from the Britannia copper mine. We paid for that with our tax dollars. We moved the Elk and cleaned up the woodfibre pulp mill, again your tax dollars at work. The food chain is returning, finally your tax dollars worked. Want to pay for it again?

Economic Impacts

Burnco Benefits

  • Economically, this proposed mine project will benefit only the Calgary based company, Burnco, through enhancements to their bottom line and is expected to only create only 12 jobs. While the economic return will accrue to Burnco, significant socio-economic costs and the damage to the bio-diversity of Howe Sound will be borne by the communities and inhabitants of the area and the taxpayers of British Columbia who will derive little benefit from the project.

Film Industry Suffers

  • A key source of employment and revenue in the Howe Sound corridor is the BC Film industry. Crews for shows and feature films alike regularly use the area to represent many of the world’s locales. Critical to the film industry, is access to remote locations that are actually within an hour of a major urban center. Howe Sound is a prime destination for filming, providing the key ingredients of scenery, access and silence. The introduction of a gravel barge operation (not to mention a crusher) will remove Howe Sound’s appeal to this important, sustainable industry.

Tourism Suffers

  • The awe inspiring beauty of Howe Sound was showcased around the world during the 2010 Winter Games. It put Vancouver and BC on the map as a “must see” destination for millions of people globally. Would any of our potential visitors expect that we might contemplate an open pit mine in the middle of such a beautiful landscape?
  • Tourism is a significant revenue, tax and job generator in the BC economy contributing $13.8 billion in revenue. It directly employs 132,000 people with many more working in roles that support the industry. The economic effect of the tourism multiplier provides exponential benefit to the BC economy. It is a sustainable industry that offers considerable growth potential for BC. Howe Sound is home to many tourism operators and its proximity to Vancouver offers visitors easy access to “wild” Canada. An open pit gravel mine will not be attractive to international or domestic tourists and endangers the economic benefits expected to flow from the millions of dollars that have been invested in promoting the area around the world.

Taxpayers Suffer

  • The costly environmental remediation efforts recently undertaken at taxpayers’ expense will be adversely impacted just at the time when the effect of these expenditures is beginning to take hold. The benefits now accruing to the area from the massive expenditure of public funds will be jeopardized by the harmful impacts of the project.

Recreation Industry Impacted as well as Commercial Fishery

  • The McNab Creek estuary and surrounding waters are extensively by recreational and commercial fishers, boaters, recreational property owners, numerous children’s camps and divers, hikers, and kayakers. All will be impacted by the development of this mine and processing plant. There will be a negative impact on businesses that provide services to this group.
  • The destruction of fish habitat will negatively impact recreational and commercial fishing in the McNab area.
  • Directly across from the proposed mine, less than 2 kms away, are outstations for the Vancouver based Burrard and West Vancouver based Thunderbird Yacht Clubs. These outstations have been at this location for more than 40 years. The 600 members of these yacht clubs will be negatively impacted by the loss of enjoyment and land value.
  • Recreational properties are only accessible by boat. Small businesses that support transportation to these areas such as water taxi, marinas and boating will suffer from the loss of use of the enjoyment at these properties. Any gain to such business from the industrial business will be offset by losses from the recreational industry.
  • Any potential recreational expansion in the area is unlikely to go ahead.

Real Estate and Tax Revenue impacted

  • The recreational property owners in the McNab Creek area will see the value of their land and homes plummet as a result of the development of the Burnco gravel pit.
  • Municipal governments, in particular the SCRD, will have their existing (and future) property taxes in the area eroded.
  • Potential recreational expansion in the area will be dramatically impacted resulting in a long term economic loss to the small businesses which provide transportation and support services for the area.



This proposal sees a company change the landscape of a local region to create 12 jobs.

We all want to see job creation in BC for the health of the economy but we should ask ourselves, is the destruction of this beautiful valley an and potential loss of business from the Tourism and Film production industries really worth only 12 jobs?

This is our Province, our home, we are guardians of it for the generations to come, we should develop a sustainable economic plan, not return to an era of industrial abuse.

Liveability Impacts

  • Howe Sound communities have grave concerns about the impact that this facility will have, not only on the the majority of the valley’s bio-system and habitat, but also on the whole of Howe Sound. This impact will be felt not only be the communities but also by the myriad of recreational boaters, sailors, kayakers and scuba divers who use the Sound extensively.
  • The easy accessibility of Howe Sound from the Greater Vancouver area allows thousands of boaters, fishers and children from summer camps to enjoy the wilderness on their doorstep. The development of a mine with its consequent negative noise, light and visual impacts and loss of animal and plant habitat will reduce the attractiveness of Howe Sound for all who enjoy it today as well as for future generations and will reduce our much discussed “liveability”.
  • The noise, light and visual impacts will not be confined to the McNab Creek area but will be readily apparent at communities such as Lions Bay and from the Sea to Sky highway.

It is time for a long term plan for Howe Sound.

  • The communities’ concerns about this inappropriate project highlight the fact that there is no long term land and water use plan in place for the Sound. This situation exists despite the fact that there is a Principles of Co-operation document signed by twelve First Nations and local governments which states that there has to be a co-ordinated approach to development. In that document, the First Nations and local communities in the area identify the need to protect the unique bio-physical qualities of the region. Clearly the local communities have stated that we shouldn’t be considering these types of projects without first developing a long term plan for the region that takes into account the diverse social and economic interests that will be affected by industrial development of the nature proposed.
  • The fact that the provincial and federal governments are considering approval of a major industrial project without having first developed a long term land and water use plan in consultation with local First Nations and local governments shows a blatant disregard for the wishes of the local communities and the voters who live throughout the region.



Howe Sound is home to many thousands of people. They cherish its awe inspiring beauty and unique ecosystems; many rely on Howe Sound to make a living and as their backyard playground. They don’t want to see this area, that has cost so much to put right, destroyed in exchange for a permanent scar on the planet and some short term gains for a few.

Just say no. Tell 10 friends to say no. Tell your ELECTED representative that if they don’t say no, they won’t be your elected representative much longer.