Gabriola Commons HistoryFrom Dream to Reality
In Spring 2005 a trio of community-minded Gabriolans purchased a 26-acre goat farm in the Gabriola village core with the idea of transforming it into a community commons.
AGES Purchases Goat Farm in Spring 2005.
From the beginning farming, food and feasting were always going to be serious foci for activities at the Commons.
In the 1980’s, a young couple developed a 26 acre goat farm in what is now the Gabriola village core. After 10 years of farming, they put the farm up for sale and the idea of transforming it into a Community Commons was born.
The farm didn’t sell initially, but processes were set in action to make the community commons dream a reality. The start was the establishment of the Amazing Grace Ecological Society (AGES) using a legacy of a long-time Gabriolan activist Jay Mussell.
When the farm was offered for sale again in 2005, AGES used their funds to purchase and mortgage the property. For the first three years, AGES Directors Heide Brown, Shelagh Huston and Chris Mussell managed the property.
Community visioning from 2005-2007:
Drafting community needs and potential uses for the land and amenities
To assist the community to engage with and plan for a community commons, several well-attended open houses and workshops were held, culminating in a three-day From Dream to Design workshop in November 2005 that produced a draft of community needs and potential uses for the land and amenities.
A steering committee of volunteers stepped forward to meet bi-weekly over the next two years to bring the Gabriola Commons into being, planning logistics such as potential land-use bylaws, agricultural and non-agricultural uses, ownership and governance options, protection of the land in perpetuity and financial viability.
The community continues this visioning process every 5 years.
A three-day community consultation produced an outline of Gabriolans’ ideas for a community commons.
Integration with the Gabtriola Official Community Plan
During this same time, 2005-2008, a study of the future needs of the Gabriola community was undertaken as part of a review of its Official Community Plan (OCP).
Because of its location, the goat farm was seen as an ideal location for “not-for-profit” community-focussed purposes.
Ownership of the Property was legally transferred to the Gabriola Commons Foundation in 2008.
The Gabriola Commons Foundation (GCF) was a newly established non-profit society set up in 2008 to help steward the Commons into the future.
The Foundation and Commons teams now steward the land and amenities for public benefit.
The land is rezoned to Gabriola Commons Comprehensive Zone in 2010.
The community had additional dreams and plans that would suit the land and location but which were beyond its use in agriculture.
In 2006, volunteers with expertise did baseline soil and ecological surveys and prepared a detailed proposal for the BC Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) for non-agricultural uses of the land. This was subsequently approved by the ALC.
This was followed in mid-2007 with an application to the Islands Trust for a land-use bylaw amendment, balancing a diversity of proposed land uses, including some non-agricultural, multi-purpose uses.
In 2010 the Islands Trust approved the rezoning and created the “Gabriola Commons Comprehensive Zone”. [LINK OCP files HERE]
With this remarkable act, the Gabriola Commons became a unique and distinct property on Gabriola with zoning that recognizes and enshrines the vision and spirit of a community commons, likely the only designation of its kind in Canada.
Learn more about the global Community Commons.
Gabriola Commons is mortgage free in 2017!
In 2007, the mortgage assumed by the GCF was about $400,000. By 2017, it was fully discharged 13 years early! This was done completely through donations from the Gabriola community and others, sometimes given anonymously.
Community donors support it still, helping to keep the buildings and grounds improved and maintained.
So much has been done by so many over the years. Participants and supporters have responded to calls for matching project funds and have enthusiastically shown up for workbees and repairs and discussions as needed.
Though generous community donations, the mortgage was paid off 13 years before its amortization term.
Over the years, exciting new projects continue to be realized.
Open community consultations have been held every 5 years since From Dream to Design.
Over the years while attending to the financial, legal and regulatory requirements, a number of exciting projects have been realized adding to the rich and diverse use of the land supported by individuals’ donations and grants.
- A former cheese making plant has been converted into a Community Kitchen.
- A solar array and a new septic field have been installed, as well as new roofs for the goat barn and farmhouse.
- A boules court now enriches the recreation and social gathering potential of the open spaces.
- a labyrinth offers a place for peaceful meditation.
In 2020, a 25,000 gallon reservoir was constructed to increase water reserves for growers and to protect the pond species, its top providing an accessible stage for outdoor performances of all kinds.
Community Commons Covenant
A community commons covenant is distinct from a traditional conservation or ecological covenant as it uniquely enshrines particular ecological values of the landscape balanced with the agricultural potential, a wide range of community uses, and includes the cultural significance of community stewardship and sustainability.
A special “commons covenant” will soon be registered on the land title to protect it as a community commons for the people of Gabriola in perpetuity.
Our Commons journey continues
The Commons continues to meet community needs as they arise and hold space for that which is yet undreamed.
This journey hasn’t always been smooth or easy, it is constantly evolving and is often deliciously – or frustratingly – messy. But that’s the joy and challenge of a commons, often asking difficult and unsettling questions about being in relation with the land and with each other.
The Gabriola Commons is an experiment in shared responsibility and stewardship of a special landscape and a precious community resource – in a context of attention to fairness, inclusion and sustainability.
At once protected as it is and also adapting to community needs, the Gabriola Commons is indeed a dynamic and unique endeavour.