With the local hot springs being tied so closely to Harrison’s literal identity and its tourism scene, residents and visitors alike are concerned, angry and confused about the continued closure of the hot springs-fueled public pool.
A group of about 20 concerned residents gathered at Milos Greek Taverna in Harrison Hot Springs to speak with Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vis about a variety of issues. Though the ongoing controversy surrounding the Harrison Hot Springs Public Mineral Pool was not something federal representative Vis could directly address, the provincial issue dominated much of the conversation.
Fran Velis has been a resident of Harrison since 1994, and she is one of many residents disturbed by the lack of access to the pool.
“It is detrimental to the people of Harrison,” Velis told The Observer. “All of us who lived here for many, many years have enjoyed the pool many times a week. Other hot springs (in B.C.) are open and have been open during COVID. Some people come here just for the pool or make it a stop on their way, and suddenly, we don’t have it. Pretty soon, that will wipe Harrison Hot Springs right off the map.”
The Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa oversees the public pool, which has been mostly closed from the early days of the pandemic onward. The pool was meant to be open during the weekends starting in late May, but resort management said due to a lack of certified lifeguards, the pool had to be shut down once more.
The water license to the hot springs belongs to Vancouver-based Saliance Global Holdings, which owns Harrison Hot Springs Resort. The main sticking point residents frequently point to is the language of the public pool’s conditional water licence itself, which dictates not only how many gallons per minute should be made available to the public but that the “flow of water should be made available to the public at all times between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. every day, at a point to which the public is entitled to free access or to which the licensee grants free public access.” Residents allege the pool’s sustained closure is in violation of the conditional water licence. This licence expires in 2037.
“The biggest thing is that we’re called Harrison Hot Springs, but we’re not Harrison Hot Springs. It’s been taken away from us,” said Deanna Boudreau, a resident who attended the meeting at Milos. Boudreau said she had friends visiting from Sweden on a “hot springs tour” across the province who were mortified to learn there was no public access.
Harrison Hot Springs Resort acting general manager Lisa Rose said the ultimate goal is to have the pool open seven days a week, but what the hours would ultimately be would depend on their specific hiring situation.
No member of the village council was at the meeting with Vis.
Vis encouraged residents to continue to put pressure on the municipal government and urge Chilliwack-Kent MLA Kelli Paddon to advocate for Harrison residents on this issue.
“I know Kelli to be a very open and accessible member of the Legislative Assembly, and I think if you approach her in good faith and ask for a meeting, she’s the best person to address this in conjunction with the Village Council,” Vis said.
The Observer has reached out the Paddon for comment. Although as of press time there has been no reply yet, The Observer will publish Paddon’s response online and in our next edition.