Skip to content

A room with a view for free

Peter Kijewski has a stunning view of white-capped mountains from his Scout Lake shack. But he doesn't pay a dime to live there, a fact that angers many of his neighbours.

Peter Kijewski has a stunning view of white-capped mountains from his Scout Lake shack.

But he doesn’t pay a dime to live there, a fact that angers many of his neighbours.

And, according to the government, Kijewski isn’t breaking any laws.

He and his 14-year-old daughter have been squatting near Scout Lake since last summer when they moved to the Yukon from Dawson Creek, BC.

His tiny, one-room plywood and canvas structure, with only enough space for a bed and a small table and chair, is perched on one of the best spots on the lake.

Kijewski fishes from the lake, harvests wood from nearby forests - without a permit, he said - and uses solar panels to run a computer his daughter uses for homework.

It’s a humble existence, said Kijewski.

But to neighbours in this Ibex Valley community, it’s a nuisance.

Neil and Trish MacPherson regularly run their dog team through the forested trails near Scout Lake and have had several encounters with Kijewski’s six dogs.

“I’ve been bitten so many times by his dogs trying to get at my dog team,” said Neil Macpherson. “He doesn’t call them off wildlife either and just lets them chase.”

His dogs are small, and he ties up the most aggressive ones, said Kijewski.

But MacPherson remembers one particular incident with an older fellow and his dog walking the trails near Scout Lake.

“I heard a commotion,” said MacPherson. “When I came up the guy was throwing rocks (at some of Kijewski’s dogs) trying to save his own dog.”

Neighbours have complained to government officials about the dogs as well as Kijewski’s timber harvesting and fishing practices.

“I phoned (a conservation officer) to say that he has a net in the water and two fishing rods,” said MacPherson.

“(The conservation officer) never even phoned us back.”

Regulations aside, neighbours are downright perplexed by some of Kijewski’s habits.

They’ve noticed plastic bags tied to trees near his home, filled with feces.

“He says it’s to scare the wildlife,” said Karen Pelletier.

Neil MacPherson is convinced it’s human feces and points out that

Kijewski’s cabin doesn’t have an outhouse.

Kijewski has moved his camp five times since he started living in the Scout Lake area.

“We’ve been moving like wolves,” he said, explaining that each time he uproots he carries his plywood cabin on his shoulders.

Kijewski and his daughter have been able to take advantage of a loophole in the government’s policies governing land use.

On most Yukon Crown land Kijewski would have to apply for a land permit to set up his home.

But Scout Lake is a recreational reserve, set aside specifically for campers.

When the reserve was created at least 30 years ago, government officials had Yukon Boy Cubs and Scouts in mind, not long-term squatters.

Today the land is no longer used by Cubs or Scouts, but the reserve status has stuck.

The government policy allows anybody to camp on a piece of reserve land for up to 400 days as long as there are no more than two people at the camp.

So, in this case, because there are two people - Kijewski and his daughter - they can stay for 200 days before moving their camp, said natural resource manager Paul Butra.

“The government is looking for a solution,” he said.

But to residents, that isn’t enough.

“It’s just astounding that he’s allowed to live there,” said Pelletier.

“Lands has been out there as well as fisheries and it seems they are all fine with it.”

Living like nomads isn’t new to the Kijewskis.

They’ve been squatting for the last six years.

When Kijewski’s family was living in British Columbia they squatted on Crown land near Dawson Creek and Peace River.

It wasn’t for financial reasons.

It was better off living in the forest than in the mouldy houses in Pouce Coupe, a small town outside of Dawson Creek, said Kijewski, a Polish immigrant who arrived in Canada seven years ago.

But living off-grid aroused the curiosity of people in town, he said.

Kijewski says he was unfairly suspected of being behind the Encana pipeline bombings, particularly since his camp was metres away from where one of the pipeline bombings happened and because he had publicly challenged the oil and gas industry.

“The terrorism accusations cut us off from society,” he said.

The RCMP also targeted his family, he added.

Although he was interviewed by the RCMP in relation to the bombings, Kijewski was never considered a suspect, said Staff Sgt. Darren Traichezich of the Dawson Creek RCMP detachment.

However the detachment did follow-up on his whereabouts after he was evicted from his squat in British Columbia.

“Now the (Yukon) RCMP have started sniffing around my camp,” said Kijewski.

RCMP Sgt. Don Rogers wouldn’t confirm whether a file was opened on him, although Trish MacPherson says the cops have already visited Kijewski three times.

One of those times involved the MacPhersons.

“He was here, with his hands cupped around his eyes, looking in my windows at 1:30 in the morning,” said Trish.

“He said he was looking for his daughter.” I called the RCMP.”

Trish approached the government last year as the local advisory councillor for Ibex Valley.

That’s when she learned what Kijewski was doing was technically legal.

“It’s so frustrating,” she said.

“We get all our permits, then somebody doesn’t pay their taxes and they can take the best spot in our recreational area and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

Kijewski says he lives in the “fresh air” so that his daughter doesn’t have to grow up surrounded by chemicals.

But neighbours are concerned about the teen.

Two weeks ago, Neil went down by the lake and noticed Kijewski having a large bonfire near the water.

He was having a fight with his daughter.

“I was well over half a kilometre away and I could hear him screaming at her,” said Neil.

He thinks he was burning a pile of her belongings. To make the case, Neil sifted through charred remains of books, a backpack and photography directions with Polish lettering at the top that he’d salvaged from the firepit.

When asked about the firepit near his squat, with burned Archie comics and books still visible, Kijewski denied ever using it.

“I prefer using timber to heat my cabin than a firepit,” he said.

Trish has received numerous complaints from neighbours about the squatters.

However, she knows that the government’s hands are tied because their lands policy hasn’t been updated.

The rules will only change when a minister has amended the policy, said Butra.

Kijewski says he was recently given a two-week eviction notice.

That’s not so, said Butra.

But an eviction could happen if Kijewski continues to expand the structures on his squat.

“Then it may fall under illegal occupancy,” he said.

The residents of this small Ibex Valley community want an assurance something like this will never happen again.

“The government is supposed to have a squatter’s policy,” said Trish.

“Obviously it doesn’t have a lot of backbone if this is happening.”

Contact Vivian Belik at