Colwood council has pulled the plug on a mobile sauna operating on Esquimalt Lagoon.
While the sauna was seen as a healthy and popular offering that went well with the trend of cold-ocean swimming, council has decided to end a temporary-use permit issued in January to Wildwood Saunas.
Josh Dupuis’s company can stay until March 31, but will have to move off Ocean Boulevard and the lagoon.
Councillors cited concerns about allowing businesses outside of scheduled short-time special events like music and food trucks, saying the permit issued to Wild Wood to evaluate community interest had no expiration date but had to have one.
They noted concerns about setting a precedent for other businesses, increasing traffic volumes and noise in what is part of a migratory bird sanctuary.
Wildwood Saunas had acquired a business licence and necessary insurance, and set up its trailer-mounted, wood-fired sauna in January, booking customers online from Thursdays to Sundays.
Council noted there has been praise for the sauna business, but an equal amount of criticism about businesses setting up for longer periods outside of special events.
“I’ve already been approached by two local Colwood businesses … now they want to set up, so we’ve opened a bit of a Pandora’s box,” said Colwood Mayor Doug Kobayashi. “We haven’t really looked at everything we should be looking at.”
Kobayashi praised Dupuis for his business model, but said Esquimalt Lagoon is “simply the wrong location.”
Council was supportive of Wildwood Saunas, however, saying, staff could assist Dupuis in finding a new location.
Dupuis said he will meet with developers at Royal Beach this week about moving his mobile sauna there. He’s also approached Oak Bay Marina to set up one of his two mobile units on its property.
He operated his mobile sauna at Willows Beach in Oak Bay periodically on weekends from January to September in 2022, before bylaw officers told him commercial enterprises were not allowed along the beachfront promenade.
“They basically told me I’d never be allowed, so I started looking at Esquimalt Lagoon,” said Dupuis. He said the sauna is proving popular anywhere people like to go ocean swimming, but it needs to be close to a beach, preferably one where people like to swim.
“It seems you just build up your clientele, and then you get the plug pulled on you,” said Dupuis.
The company has about 2,000 followers on Instagram and about 1,000 active customers who use the saunas on a regular basis, said Dupuis. The mobile sauna holds six people, who pay $20 an hour each, or $100 per group.
Dupuis also builds backyard and home saunas.
Colwood resident Melody Maier urged council to keep the sauna in place. “I’m proud to have them in my neighbourhood because they’re unique to Colwood and represent health and wellness,” she said. “Saunas promote detox and stress management. My family just visited from Ontario and they were so impressed with the saunas — it was a highlight of their trip. Please don’t take something so beneficial away from this community.”
The operation of commercial businesses on the Esquimalt Lagoon and other waterfront areas of Colwood will be discussed next month during a meeting of the Waterfront Stewardship Committee.
Coun. Cynthia Day said the increasing popularity of the lagoon and special events is starting to take its toll on the area.
“I want to support those businesses that want to provide opportunities for residents in Colwood to be outside and have positive experiences, but I don’t want it to be at the expense of the nature of the environment that’s there,” she said.
Coun. David Grove said he appreciates the idea of people enjoying ocean dips and a sauna as a healthy pursuit, but said the lagoon is essentially a beach park. He’s also noted his concern about the increasing number of special events and other business proposals within the fragile environment bordering Parks Canada’s Fort Rodd Hill and the bird sanctuary.
“My problem is there’s no orderliness to it, there’s no infrastructure built to service increased businesses. At what point do you draw the line? It’s not the right place,” said Grove.
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