Coast Mountain Projects Have Major Impact on First Nations Communities

July 15, 2019

NANAIMO – After nearly 30 years in business, Coast Mountain Construction has been impacting indigenous communities all over Vancouver Island and the BC Coast.

This April, three Coast Mountain projects were featured at the 2019 Vancouver Island Real Estate Board (VIREB) Commercial Building Awards, held at the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay.

At the awards, the Tla-o-qui-aht Container Housing Project, located near Tofino, brought home a Merit award in the Multi-Family Non-Market category. Coast Mountain projects Tlucha Children’s Facility near Tofino (Institutional) and the Toquaht Nation Duplex Project in Macoah Village (Multi-Family Non-Market) were also recognized as finalists.

At the event, judges singled out the Tla-o-qui-aht Container Housing Project for its unique concept and execution.

The structure was a demonstration project funded by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to see the viability of recycling shipping containers as components in a housing project. The completed structures show a variety of sizes and layouts with 21 units in total. There are five single-family homes at 1,200 square feet and 16 micro units within two 8-plex buildings at 320 square feet each. It was built with the help of Boni Maddison Architecture in Vancouver.

“This was a federally funded project,” says Wayne Hawthornthwaite, Coast Mountain’s owner and founder. “The goal was to see if this was a feasible method of construction. We built a variety of plans to test it out, and at the end of the day, it was about double the cost of conventional construction.”

Though the project was successfully completed, Hawthornthwaite doubts that similar projects will be feasible in the future.

“In my opinion, the numbers prove it isn’t the best option,” he continues. “From what I saw, it doesn’t make sense in our climate.”

Though the experiment may not have come up with the desired results, the finished product impressed the judges enough to garner second place recognition.

In addition to the container housing project, the company was recognized for the Tlucha Children’s Facility at the Ty-Histanis subdivision near Tofino.

“This was a fantastic project to work on,” says Hawthornthwaite. “We built about 100 homes in that community, with each house connected to a geothermal system. Now we’ve added the daycare, as there are enough families living there to justify it. It completes the community, adding some important infrastructure.

“We are in the midst of doing a similar project in Ucluelet. These child care facilities are such important parts of these communities. They give parents the opportunity to go to work and rest easy, knowing that their child is taken care of in a safe environment.”

The third project was a set of duplexes built for the Macoah Village, part of the Toquaht Nation. Before Coast Mountain completed the project, the community only had 12 homes.

“Adding this many homes was huge step for them,” says Hawthornthwaite. “They were designed for families. We didn’t want to just build a standard two-storey home with an unfinished basement. We wanted to build a smaller home with more usable space so the client can afford the utilities.”

Coast Mountain Construction was founded in 1990. Previous to entering construction, Hawthornthwaite was working in the commercial fishing industry.

“My family had a fishing boat, where I worked for a number of years,” he says. “I took an apprenticeship in carpentry when the fishing industry started to dry up.”

Hawthornthwaite and his company have been working with First Nation communities since 1996, when he began working with the Stz’uminus First Nation. From there, he built a strong reputation, developing connections with community leaders throughout Vancouver Island and beyond.

“We’ve worked hard to change the way First Nation housing has been done,” he says. “Standards used to be very low on these buildings. They would be completed to minimum standards and appraised by the government, but never properly inspected.

“We’ve worked to change those standards. We have our homes inspected from top to bottom in our climate code. Before we started doing this, these projects went to the lowest tender, and nobody was overseeing their work. The result was extremely unfortunate.”

A statement on the company’s website reads, “We only work with the most skilled of craftsmen in order to spare no effort in building a beautiful, sturdy and functional home. Our customers also have the opportunity to work with our subcontractors and suppliers to select brick, carpet, countertops and the other details that make the house we build the home of their dreams.”

It continues, “It is our obligation at Coast Mountain Construction to ensure that our customers get the most for their money. That’s why we are dedicated to providing custom homes at reasonable prices.”

In the future, Hawthornthwaite plans on continuing to build in this niche market.

“We treat them fair with our pricing, and put our heart into the buildings,” he says. “It’s fulfilling to help a nation out. We work with the community, and they know we’re not just trying to get their money.”

When building these homes, the Coast Mountain team works closely with the tribe and residents to create finished product they could all be proud of.

“When you drive through Ty-Histanis, for example, the homes each have distinct looks. We give the people a choice for colors and other creative decisions. It gives them more pride and ownership, and helps them to create more of an identity.”

Hawthornthwaite currently sits on several training boards, and is helping to develop a project that will help community members find employment in the trades.

Coast Mountain is currently involved in a pilot project in the Tofino area, where a teacher is brought into a community to teach apprenticeships. So far, the program has been very successful, with a much higher retention rate than usual.

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