A member of Yellowknife's houseboat community is worried the city's desire to create a harbour authority will spell the end of the independent, free-spirited existence that has survived on Yellowknife Bay since floating homes began springing up near Jolliffe Island some 30 years ago.
Gary Vaillancourt, standing outside his houseboat on Yellowknife Bay, has belonged to the floating home community since 1981. He wants the city to leave houseboaters alone. - Adrian Lysenko/NNSL photo
There are around 20 houseboats in the area today.
City council voted unanimously Monday night to establish a Yellowknife Harbour Planning Committee, consisting of 16 community members, including two representatives from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, another from the NWT Float Plane Association, several government representatives but only one houseboater.
The goal of the committee is to eventually create a harbour plan that could include the creation of a harbour authority with the power to regulate development on Yellowknife Bay.
"I like the free zone, it works well," said Gary Vaillancourt who has lived on a houseboat since 1981. "Leave it alone."
The lake bed of Yellowknife Bay is currently under the control of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC).
The budget for the harbour committee is $400,000, with half coming from the city and the other half from INAC.
The lack of regulatory control over houseboats has long been a sore point with the city. A lengthy legal battle erupted in 1995 after the city attempted to levy property taxes on a number of houseboats. The houseboaters eventually prevailed, but Vaillancourt says the renewed focus on water jurisdiction by the city isn't about settling an old score.
"This is not retaliation. It's further attempts to gain control," said Vaillancourt.
"Regulatory bodies can't stand to see uncontrolled development."
Matthew Grogono, who almost won the mayor's seat in 1997, was one of the most vocal opponents of the city's attempt to gain jurisdictional control over houseboats, but he said he doubts he will lead the challenge this time.
"I'm exhausted," said Grogono. "I've spent extended amounts of energy and finances fighting them."
Mayor Gord Van Tighem acknowledges that establishing the harbour committee could potentially lead to regulations for houseboats.
But he said it's houseboaters themselves who are approaching the city with concerns over the growing numbers of floating homes popping up in Yellowknife Bay.
Concerns include the lack of building inspections as well as protocols for emergency services.
In September 2009 the city obtained a written endorsement from the Yellowknives Dene to establish the harbour committee.
Chief executive officer John Carter said he supports the idea.
"One of the biggest problems out there is the uncontrolled growth of houseboats," said Carter. "What's to say that in five year's time there won't be 30 or 40 more houseboats out there?"
He said a harbour authority would help control the growth of the houseboat community which, if not regulated, could pose environmental problems, such as fuel leaks. Carter said he would expect the current number of houseboats would be "grandfathered" from any regulations imposed in the future.
But Vaillancourt is more sceptical.
"We don't want that kind of regulation," said Vaillancourt. "This is the last example of an independent home."