Governance of Cultus Lake Park is the direct responsibility of the Park Board, accountable for the protection and preservation of the 640 acres of park land surrounding a small stretch of beach on the eastern shore of the lake. The provision of residential services and the infrastructure necessary to support the local homes and commercial businesses is mandated by the Park Board and are funded by its annual capital and operating budgets.
Cultus Lake Park has a unique and vivid history. In the 1880's, the Cultus Lake Park lands were within what was known as "the Railway Belt". The Federal Crown acquired title to the park lands from the province in exchange for Canada's undertaking to construct a national railway.
The Federal Government transferred the lands to the City of Chilliwack (and the Township of Chilliwhack, now the District of Chilliwack) in 1924, subject to certain conditions and reservations "for park purposes and for no other purpose". These lands were just outside of the municipal boundaries of the city.
In 1932, the Province was petitioned by the City and Township to pass governance of Cultus Lake Park to a Board comprised of park commissioners, and in response the Legislature enacted the Cultus Lake Park Act 1932, S.B.C., c.63. This Act established the Cultus Lake Park Board, empowered to "pass bylaws for the regulation, protection and management of the park", among other things.
Since then, the Act has been amended to permit additional lands to be added to the park, and added to the powers of the Board by permitting it to construct, operate and maintain "improvements, buildings, equipment, facilities, conveniences, amusements and businesses" which the Board considered to be conducive to the use of the park by the public. Section 19 of the Act was added which gave the Board the authority to license businesses in the park and prohibited the operation of a business without a license.
By 1943 further amendments of the Act expanded on the powers of the Board; authority to make arrangements for protecting the park from fire, to establish a garbage collection system and to incur financial obligations for the provision of education of the children of park residents. It also provided that the breach of a park bylaw was an offence punishable by a maximum fine of $50.00 (upon summary conviction) and authorized the Board to perform work required at the expense of the person in default and gave entitlement to bring an action to recover debts owed to it.
In 1999, City representatives met with officials of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs (now the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development) regarding amendments to the Act to protect the Park. The Ministry felt that governance of Cultus Lake must be resolved first, and suggested that a boundary extension might provide the best solution to some of the problems with the existing arrangements.
Urban Systems was commissioned in 2002 by a joint steering committee of the Cultus Lake Park Board, the City of Chilliwack, and the Fraser Valley Regional District to examine the unique form of governance by the Park Board. It was determined that considerable discussions were required with provincial and federal representatives, First Nations and local residents.
By 2004 it was clear that the City, although the legal owner of the land, does not have any control over the use or improvement of the land, and the Regional District has no jurisdiction over zoning but could enact regulations, such as building bylaws, that did not fall within the Park Board's powers.
In early 2004 the City struck the first Cultus Lake Governance Committee (CLGC) consisting of members from the City, the Park Board, the Regional District and representatives from Cultus Lake to set the stage for a process intended to lead to the resolution of land tenure issues and to the repealing of the Cultus Lake Park Act. The CLGC commissioned consultants to prepare financial analyses, which were presented to the public in March 2004. Village status or amalgamation with the City of Chilliwack were considered the only economically viable options; also under discussion as a potential part of that process was the conversion of existing leases in the Park into registered land titles. However, none of those options proceeded; at the end of the process the Province would not commit to the dissolution of the Cultus Lake Park Act, and the City of Chilliwack was not prepared to enter into a boundary extension and amalgamation agreement.
The Integrated Land Management Bureau (ILMB) notified the Park Board in 2007 that they were responsible for land tenure issues at Cultus Lake, the Ministry of Community Services was responsible for governance restructuring issues and both were responsible for consulting with the Soowahlie First Nation. The CLGC requested clarification of the provincial government's position, and received a reply that the Ministry would not be in a position to commit to a time frame for legislative change.
The Ministry recommended that the Park Board partner with other local governments and First Nations to access funding opportunities for capital intensive services. A new study was done by Neilson-Welsh in 2008, which examined a boundary extension initiative once again, but the extension plan fell to the wayside and to this day Cultus Lake Park maintains the status quo.
As resolutions passed at the September 11, 2013 open meeting attest, today's Park Board concurs with the City of Chilliwack, that a resolution of the land tenure issue must take place. Equally important is the Board's commitment that public input be solicited before any meaningful policy decisions are made on the matter of governance of Cultus Lake Park.
The City of Chilliwack and Township of Chilliwhack were amalgamated to form the District of Chilliwack in 1980, and although the District still did not encompass the Cultus Lake lands, the joint interest of the City and Township passed on to the District upon its incorporation. Representation of the Board changed so that five (5) members represented the District and two represented the residents of Cultus Lake. Further changes dealt with procedure and changed the way in which people were elected to the Board which was made consistent with the school board process.
In 1997 the Cultus Lake Park Plan was prepared by the Board as a guide to future land use and development within the park. It established formal policies regarding land use and environmental protection and set up a process for considering any major changes in land use. Today the Board, in cooperation with the Fraser Valley Regional District and staff, is undergoing a complete review of the Park Plan, through an extensive public consultation process, to update this vital document.