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Huge, recently discovered B.C. cave closed to public — and trespassers face $1M fine




B.C.’s provincial government has closed the area around a newly discovered cave thought to be Canada’s largest for the sake of its preservation and public safety — threatening a $1-million fine for those who don’t stay away.

A helicopter crew came across the cavern in the northeastern corner of Wells Gray Provincial Park in March. It’s the largest known cave of its type, with a depth about the length of a soccer field, and researchers have kept its exact location a secret.

‘It’s about the size of a soccer field,’ geologist Catherine Hickson said. ‘So, if you think of a soccer field and you put that soccer field on its end so you have this pit going down.’ (Catherine Hickson/Tuya Terra Geo Corp.)

B.C. Parks announced on Wednesday that the cave and its surrounding area are now closed to the public. Those who try to get close despite the shutdown face a fine of up to $1 million or a year in prison.

Geologist Catherine Hickson, who’s part of the team studying the cavern, said the closure came as a welcome surprise.

“You’re kidding. Wow,” she said Wednesday morning.

“It is an extremely dangerous location … the cave itself and its remoteness.”

‘Not the place for a casual visitor’

Hickson first visited the site in September.

The entrance pit is about 100 metres long and 60 metres wide. Its depth is hard to measure because of mist from a waterfall pouring over the opening, but initial exams show the cavern is at least 135 metres deep.

“For city-dwellers, when they’re looking down into an excavation pit going down a few storeys for, say, a parking garage … multiply that 10 times and that’s what you’re looking into,” she said. 

“And, of course, there’s no fences,” she added.

An aerial view of the cave and its entrance:

The cave is about the size of a soccer field and might be the largest ever found in Canada. 0:31

Hickson also said only the most experienced hiker would be able to reach the cave safely, let alone climb into it. 

“This is not a place for the casual visitor,” she said.

“This would only be undertaken by the most serious people and even then, they’re not going to be able to carry the equipment you need to carry into the cave,” Hickson said.

One of the researchers working with Catherine Hickson climbs into Sarlacc’s Pit during an expedition this fall. Hickson said only the most experienced hiker could reach the cave, let alone climb into it safely. (Catherine Hickson)

In the winter, it’d be a 50-kilometre ski trip through unmapped terrain to reach the pit. In the summer, it would be a lengthy paddle and a gruelling hike with no support along the way.

Run into trouble and you’d need a monstrous, costly rescue operation to get home.

On top of that danger, there’s also the chance the cave holds cultural significance for First Nations in B.C.

“Certainly, it might have been a known location in terms of a sacred place … but we just don’t know,” Hickson said. “That’s what [B.C.] Parks is working on.”

An aerial view of the entrance to Sarlacc’s Pit in Wells Gray Provincial Park. (J. Pollack)

The people who first spotted the cave from the helicopter named it Sarlacc’s Pit because of its similarity to the lair of the sarlacc, a creature from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

The cave is the largest known example of the type known as “striped karst,” which is marble interspersed with other types of ancient ocean rock.

Hickson said a formal naming of the cave will happen after consultations with First Nations. She added further investigations and research of the cave and its unique geography will likely be carried out in 2020, depending on funding.

B.C. Parks said the area will be closed until consultation with First Nations is finished and public safety has been fully assessed.

In the meantime, Hickson said Canadians should be content to appreciate the site from a distance.

“It’s an important landmark — an important feature for Canadians to be proud about,” she said.


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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton




OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training




Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test




While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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