Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

The bull and the bear Add to ...

Barrie never made much of a mark in the NHL. At 18, he was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the sixth round. He was a gritty but faceless journeyman, skating with the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, L.A. Kings and, finally, the Florida Panthers. In October, 2000, in a game against New Jersey, Barrie took a shot in the kidney that required surgery. Nonetheless, that season was Barrie's best: five goals and 18 assists in 60 games. But the injury had left him in pain and "pissing blood." In 2001, at 32, he hung up his skates.

Barrie was already an avid golfer-his house in suburban Victoria, where he lived with his wife, Kristy, and their two kids, backed on to the swank Royal Colwood Golf Club. He teed off there as often as five times a week. The 95-year-old course, which prides itself on its "natural and unspoiled" setting, wends through a forest of 450-year-old Douglas firs and majestic Garry oaks, home to deer, herons and bald eagles.

But in April, 1999, Barrie had decided he wanted a better view of the course. So he hired a contractor to cut down 28 trees-Douglas firs, an arbutus and a few wild cherries-that ran between his property and the green. As it turned out, some of the trees were as much as 16 metres beyond Barrie's property line. Then, as now, he insisted it was all a misunderstanding; he thought the trees were in his yard. (Besides, he adds, many were "half dead" anyhow.)

The Royal Colwood sued Barrie for $18,500 and, after several appeals, he settled for $14,700. But he and his then-nine-year-old son were barred for life.

To fill his days, the newly retired Barrie began riding his bike into the hills east of his house. Over the years, mountain bikers had cut trails through the 1,000-acre lot, and these were drawing a growing number of people to the area. The increased traffic irked the Highlands council, which was dedicated to keeping out the big-box sprawl that characterizes neighbouring municipalities like Langford and Colwood. "We wanted to build and maintain a rural community," says McMinn, former mayor of the rustic town, which has just 2,000 full-time residents, many of whom live on five-acre-plus homesteads.

The first major developer to come sniffing around Highlands, in 1993, got nowhere. In fact, Vancouver's First National Properties ended up suing McMinn and the town itself, alleging foul play. In her ruling, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Gina Quijano found that the mayor's actions-including purposeful stalling and the sharing of privileged information-met the test that his conduct was "so malicious, oppressive and high-handed that it offends the court's sense of decency." The judge ordered McMinn to pay $10,000 in punitive damages. McMinn, another administrator and the district itself had to hand over another $500,000. McMinn resigned, though the decision was later overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal.

Barrie knew none of this as he crashed through the bush on his mountain bike one fall day in 2001. When his bike chain snapped, Barrie was left stranded on the steep western slope of the mountain. He looked southeast and caught his first glimpse of what would later become the site of the Bear Mountain resort. "The view over the ocean, Victoria, Esquimalt and Colwood was unbelievable," remembers Barrie. Directly below him was an undulating canyon that ran for a couple of kilometres east to west. It was heavily treed and dotted with boulders and rock outcroppings, but Barrie could imagine a fairway running through it. He ditched his bike and hiked off the mountain with a head full of inspiration.

A few days later, he returned and "walked off" the approaches, greens and tee boxes. He liked what his feet and golf sense told him, and was determined to buy the property, owned by Western Forest Products (WFP), a large, B.C.-based lumber producer.

Bob Flitton was the land manager of WFP's lot. He'd been a deputy minister in B.C.'s long-reigning Social Credit government, which had encouraged the development of the province's ample natural resources. In 1991, when the Socreds lost to the NDP, things had changed. The economy stagnated, and tradespeople fled to oil-rich Alberta. There was little energy, or appetite, for the type of large-scale development the Socreds had embraced. Nonetheless, in the mid-'90s, Flitton submitted a modest development proposal to the Highlands and Langford councils: 149 houses, a small commercial area, a lodge and an 18-hole golf course. It was estimated the new 424-acre subdivision would add 400 people to Highlands' population base. Flitton had dealt with the Highlands council before-he'd even donated a large chunk of land for the new municipal office. Still, they turned him down.

Single page
 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular