Council Day 57: The Case of the Mysterious Stench in Chemainus

What’s up with the perversity in agreeing to smell the overripe cheese or sweaty shoe when someone offers it? You know it’s going to smell bad—you may witness others suffering from the experience—but you can’t help yourself but lean in and take a whiff. The stink in Chemainus was that for me.

A month or so after the election, council was forwarded an email that included historical correspondence from business owners and employees on Smiley Road off the Trans-Canada Highway. They were complaining about the smell they believe is coming from Coast Environmental’s composting facility across the highway. A smell so bad their stench reports were full of unrestrained descriptors like vile, rotten, gag-worthy, rancid, disgusting. Comments riddled with an abundance of punctuation, like, “Plug your noses people the stink is off the charts right now!!!!!!”

I had to smell it myself.

The girls and I stopped into Smiley Road one evening on our way to Ladysmith. When we pulled into one of the businesses, I told the girls what we were there to do. “I wonder if we’ll actually smell anything,” I said. The smell comes and goes, so it’s not a guarantee that you’ll experience the stench, unless you’re one of the permanent businesses along Smiley Road, who have the privilege of being present at each onslaught.

Onslaught is what it is. We hopped out of the van, and just as I took my first deep inhalation, I caught my breath. That is one powerful scent; it’s a mix of organics, sweet, smoke, sulphur…so hard to describe because it’s not like anything I’ve smelled before.

The kids were classic. After entering one of the business establishments and speaking briefly with the owner about the smell—who said this wasn’t half as bad as it can get—we prepared to go back outside. “Plug your noses!” the youngest yelled as she ran to the van door. “I wish we could capture that smell,” I said, wanting to share it with the rest of council. “Yeah, let’s capture it and shoot it all away,” said the youngest. “We need space helmets to protect us from it!” said the middle kid. “Drive Mommy! Get us out of here!” said the eldest. “This isn’t Smiley Road, Mommy; this is Smelly Road.”

It was nasty. Hard-to-breathe nasty. As we drove away from Chemainus, the smell dissipated…or so I thought. When we arrived in Ladysmith, I stepped out of the van for a minute, and when I returned, the interior of the van still stank. We’d been parked on Smiley Road for 10 minutes, tops. Imagine what it must smell like in the interior of the vehicles of the employees who work there for 8 hours a day.

This situation is far from funny. It’s embarrassing for a business owner to have to explain the problem to their customers. It’s an understatement to say their staff is uncomfortable, based on the stench reports. Even if the smell is occasional, they must live in fear of its return, daily.

The solution is not yet clear. As we saw in the newspaper, the problem is not unique to Chemainus, and there is no current definition for nuisance odour. Further complicating the situation is there are two government bodies responsible for the Chemainus composting facility: it is located in North Cowichan’s jurisdiction and CVRD owns the composting facility licence.

Council will deal with this issue at a regular council meeting soon. I am hopeful the businesses involved can work with Coast Environmental to identify the source of the smell. If it is coming from the compost, are there any bright engineers out there who can solve this one? Because if you solve the case of the mysterious stench in Chemainus, there’s another facility in Cobble Hill looking for answers, too.


  1. You are one fine writer, Maeve! Your English teachers would be proud. J’aimera voir une photo de vos trois filles sur mon Internet.

    Do your Mom and Dad live on the island now?

  2. It is a combination of different things. The transfer station at Coastal moving the sewage from the tanks to the trucks makes it stronger at times. I went and toured it a few years ago and thought the problem was solved when they fixed the transfer station but I have noticed it recenty stronger than ever. Not sure what has changed.

    The smell at Old Chemainus Hwy and Oak street occurs when Chemainus Farms cleans their barns and the Askew Creek gets really stinky. We have known this for decades. Call jack Vanderbasch at Coastal 250-246-3216 and he will give you a tour.

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