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

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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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A big test of reusable packaging for groceries comes to Canada

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An online store has launched in Ontario selling groceries and household items from Loblaws in containers it will take back and refill — a test of whether Canadian consumers are ready to change their habits. Industry-watchers say it is breaking ground for reusable packaging.

The store, called Loop, launched in Canada on Feb. 1, in partnership with supermarket giant Loblaws, and offers items like milk, oats, ice cream and toothpaste for delivery in most of Ontario. Loop is already operating in the continental U.S., the U.K and France. 

Included so far are some products from well-known brands such as PC sauces and oils, Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Heinz ketchup, Chipits chocolate chips and Ocean Spray cranberries. 

“The goal is really validating that this is something the Canadian public is interested in,” said Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of Loop and its parent company TerraCycle.

Unlike existing small no-waste retailers, they want to offer “your favourite product at your favourite retailer in a reusable and convenient manner.”

The involvement of a huge retailer makes the launch notable in terms of scale and who it will reach, said Tima Bansal, Canada Research Chair in business sustainability at Western University in London, Ont. 

“I think it’s at the scale that’s needed to create the change in the community in Canada more generally,” she said.

How it works for customers

Szaky likens Loop to the reusable bottle system for beer in Canada “but expanding it to any product that wants to play in the [North American] ecosystem.”

The ultimate goal, he said, is to give people a greener way to consume that limits the amount of mining and farming needed to produce packaging.

“This allows us to greatly reduce the need to extract new materials, which is the biggest drain on our environment.

Loopstore.ca currently lists just 98 products, although many are sold out or “coming soon.” 

As with other online grocery stores, customers fill their virtual shopping cart, but in addition to the cost of the item itself, they pay a deposit for its container. That can range from 50 cents for glass President’s Choice salsa jars like the ones that are normally at the supermarket to $5 for a stainless steel Häagen-Dazs ice cream tub. 

The items are delivered to a customer’s home by courier FedEx for a $25 fee, although the fee is waived for orders over $50.

Once you’ve spooned out all the salsa or ice cream or squeezed out all the toothpaste, the container doesn’t go in the recycling bin. Instead, you toss them into the tote bag they came in — even if they’re dented or damaged — and they get picked up.

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This wearable device beeps when workers get too close to each other

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It’s a device that emits a high-pitched beep, buzzes and lights up if your coworker steps too close.

While some introverts would have bought this device before the pandemic to stave off chatty colleagues near the coffee machine, ZeroKey designed the product with a more important purpose — helping employees physically distance to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. 

The Calgary tech company’s “Safe Space” device looks like a small plastic badge that can be worn on a wrist or clipped to a shirt pocket or belt. 

“Our products, in a nutshell, localize or figure out where things are in 3D space and our big claim to fame is we do it very precisely, more precisely than anyone else in the world,” said Matt Lowe, co-founder and CEO of ZeroKey.

The company says its location-tracking technology passively monitors the distance between each device and is accurate down to 1.5 millimetres. The distance on devices can be set — so if, say, science determines three metres apart is actually safer that two, that can be tweaked. 

Lowe says the company came from humble beginnings — he and a co-founder, working out of a room in his house. The company has grown from two to 30 employees and has more openings it’s looking to fill.

Inspired by sci-fi

Their inspiration comes, as so many technological innovations have, from sci-fi. 

Lowe recalls watching Minority Report, and being transfixed with the gesture-based user interface Tom Cruise’s character operates. 

“Wouldn’t it be awesome if we had an interface that was more in tune with how humans operate naturally with their hands. So if you could just walk up to a new piece of technology … and just immediately be proficient,” he said. 

But applying that tech to the COVID-19 era wasn’t something the company had anticipated.

Lowe said some of the company’s clients in the manufacturing industry approached ZeroKey with a request.

“They came to us and said, ‘hey … we have the data where people are, can you build some sort of system so that we can do contact tracing and we can let people know if they’re closer than two metres?’ And we said, ‘absolutely … that’s easier than what we normally do,'” he said.

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Blistering rallies spur Canadian tech world to repeat equity sales

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Canadian technology companies have been making multiple trips to the equity market over the past year, capitalizing on a rally in tech shares that’s helping them raise cash at ever higher valuations.

Dye & Durham Ltd., which makes software used by law firms, took advantage of a more than sixfold rally in its shares since its July IPO to raise $500 million (US$394 million) in a bought deal of stock and convertible debentures, the company said Tuesday. Dye & Durham, which went public at $7.50 a share, received $50.50 per share in the private placement. Peers including Lightspeed POS Inc. and Docebo Inc. have made similar moves.

Shares of technology companies have gained since the onset of the pandemic as their corporate customers increasingly turned to cloud-based applications to support their remote workforces, said Anurag Rana, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. The technology sector was one of the few places investors could look for growth during the crisis, with huge swaths of the economy including retailers, restaurants, airlines, hotels and casinos hammered by lockdowns, he said.

“Issuers and private-equity investors are not stupid, and they know somewhere down the road that valuations may come back,” Rana said. “So this is the time when they sell.”

Canada’s S&P/TSX Information Technology Index has risen 82 per cent in the past year, fuelled by rallies in Lightspeed and Shopify Inc. That compares with a 36 per cent advance for the U.S. S&P 500 Information Technology Index.

Those gains are giving early investors in tech companies an opportunity to take some profits. In conjunction with Dye & Durham’s private deal announced Tuesday, some investors agreed with the underwriters to sell 1.98 million shares at the $50.50 price as well.

Lightspeed, which provides cloud-based point-of-sale systems for retailers and restaurants, has also seized the moment. The company went public in Canada in February 2019 and last year followed that up with a U.S. IPO, selling shares for US$30.50 apiece. The deal raised US$332.3 million for the company and US$65.4 million for some shareholders.

After Lightspeed’s share price more than doubled, it went back to the market again last week with a public offering of shares for US$70 each, raising US$620.2 million for the company and US$56 million for other shareholders.

Docebo, which sells cloud-based learning software, has tapped the market multiple times over the past year. The firm, which went public in Canada in October 2019, completed a bought deal of shares atC$50 apiece in August. The move raised $25 million for the company and $50 million for investors including founder and Chief Executive Officer Claudio Erba, Chief Revenue Officer Alessio Artuffo and top outside investor Intercap Equity Inc.

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