What to do with Quamichan’s Rainbow?

Rainbow Island — the little island in the southeast corner of Quamichan Lake — is haven for birdlife. - Michael Suds
Rainbow Island — the little island in the southeast corner of Quamichan Lake — is haven for birdlife.
— image credit: Michael Suds

John Sandys-Wunsch fondly remembers swimming and fishing for trout in Quamichan Lake.

Nostalgia perhaps propelled the senior Rhodes Scholar and Anglican priest to buy the lake’s tiny Rainbow Island back in 1975.

Now the Victorian is selling 3.2-acre Rainbow for $35,900, hoping it forms the centrepiece of a local drive to keep the algae-laced lake alive.

“The idea is for making the island and the water better,” said the Cowichan secondary grad, reluctant to tell any new owner what to do with their property.

Rainbow Island isn’t exactly the definition of a residential opportunity. Even if it sells (a deal for $75,000 recently collapsed), others familiar with Rainbow indicated it should best remain a home to eagles, herons and other waterfowl.

“This acreage is accessible only by boat, and is the only island on this Lake,” realtor Cathy Green’s ad reads. “This one-of-a-kind property does have options, but it would be best suited to someone who appreciates and wants the privilege of preserving a wildlife habitat.”

Good luck getting zoning to build anything on the spec. A North Cowichan planning staffer said Rainbow currently has no zoning, describing it as “definitely an eco-sensitive area.”

Building on the island would require a development permit, with the zone determined upon approved land use.

“It’s a real oddity,” said Roger Hart of the Quamichan Watershed Stewardship Society. “I’d like it given to the Cowichan Valley Land Trust or the society.”

That gifting would allow the owner a tax deduction and a chance to protect Rainbow with a perpetual preservation covenant. Hart was also hapless to describe how building could even happen on Rainbow.

‘’I don’t know how they’d get water or power over there. The ground’s not particularly solid, and you’d require pilings.”

Forget privacy, too.

“It’s in the middle of lake, in full view of everyone. He’d be lucky to get $35,000 for it.”

Mayor Jon Lefebure said he was unaware of any plans or discussions about the island he also hoped is preserved.

“It’s hard to image a use that makes sense there. The most logical to me is as a preserve for the environment,” he said noting any buyer would “be facing some pretty huge (development) hurdles.”

“Maybe that’s why the previous sale fell through.”

Asked if municipal taxpayers should buy Rainbow, Lefebure said council’s had no debate on that yet.

“There are lots of environmentally sensitive pieces of property around the valley.”

Anyway, Rainbow’s geography is tantamount to preservation now.

“Because it’s an environmentally sensitive area, there are restrictions on what can be done under North Cowichan’s bylaws. There are riparian considerations, so someone can’t just come in and clear the island.”

Sandys-Wunsch wasn’t happy with the lake’s foul condition.

“Oh boy, is there ever pollution in there,” he said of sewage and toxins in runoff from surrounding roads and properties.

Still, Green was optimistic a nature-lover will buy Rainbow and set it aside.

“The right buyer is what’s important,” she said, noting Sandys-Wunsch aimed to use sale proceeds to help university students.

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