The woman behind the Burns Lake billboard
When Gwyndolyn Nicholas replaced a billboard on the side of her Burns Lake health foods store with a new one earlier this month, she never imagined the fuss it would cause.
While the old billboard advertised biscotti and sandwiches, the new one showed an idyllic mountain landscape with the words: “Pure water. Wild salmon. No Enbridge pipeline.”
As it turns out, the new sign generated two confidential complaints in the village of 2,000 people – a community located along the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline route.
Three days after the sign went up, Nicholas received a bylaw infraction letter.
In a media release, the Village of Burns Lake says compliance involves two things: first, a sign permit application must be received by the village office. (Despite the fact the sign is the same dimensions as the previous sign and Nicholas has never been asked for a permit previously.)
Second, because the complaint termed the sign as “offensive,” the property owner must submit a letter of appeal to the Village council, stating the case for why the sign should stand, even if some residents may find it offensive.
“I was very surprised by the term ‘offensive,’ ” Nicholas says. “It summarizes everything that has great value to me.”
Inspiration for the billboard came from a similar one seen on the drive into Smithers. “When I saw it, I thought: ‘That is it, that’s what we’re fighting for,’ ” she says.
When a picture of the billboard was posted to Dogwood Initiative’s Facebook page, it went viral (chalking up 122,000 views in just a few days) and stoked media interest in the story. Commenters were outraged the simple billboard could be deemed “offensive” – meanwhile Enbridge has carried out a multi-million dollar advertising campaign across the province.
Unfortunately, the outrage over the bylaw notice spawned a handful of inappropriate messages directed toward Village staff. Nicholas wants to make clear the Village is not at fault and no decision has yet been made on the fate of the billboard. A media release from the Village says: “The Village office has already received numerous communications on the matter to make a strong case.”
A mother of two and owner of Gwyn’s Greengrocer, Nicholas grew up in Burns Lake, went away to school to earn her Bachelor of Nursing and then returned to the community. “I love this country. It’s a beautiful landscape,” she says.
Enbridge’s proposed pipeline brings the risk of an oil spill to her community. “It is relevant to me as a business owner in my community,” Nicholas says. “It’s not like I’m trying to be controversial. I’m looking for open dialogue, for respectful dialogue, and I want my voice to be heard and I think we have that democratic right.”
The issue will be brought before Burns Lake council at their regular meeting on Aug. 20, 2013. At that time, the council will decide whether the sign is a contravention of the bylaw.
Some reports have stated that Dogwood Initiative erroneously claimed the business owner had been “ordered to remove the sign” – that’s inaccurate. Our Facebook post stated she’d received a bylaw notice to take it down, but was appealing the notice. We included the words “to take it down” because that is ultimately what the bylaw notice was about – we should have been clearer that this wasn’t an immediate order. We’d also like to clarify we never advised people to contact the Village of Burns Lake. We are saddened and disappointed to hear Village staff received inappropriate comments on this issue.