Let’s see if we understand this accurately:

  • An independent and nationally recognized heritage consulting firm issued a Statement of Significance regarding the former home of naturalist Mack Laing — known as “Shakesides.” They said the building is of national importance and that it should be saved for its historic value and for the enjoyment of future generations.
  • The chairman of Heritage B.C., (page 77, last page) a provincial agency committed to “conservation and tourism, economic and environmental sustainability, community pride and an appreciation of our common history,” believes the heritage value of Shakesides demands that Laing’s former home should be “conserved for … future generations” and that the Town of Comox  should “use the building in ways that will conserve its heritage value.”
  • Heritage B.C. has offered its assistance, at no charge, to the Town of Comox, for the duration of the process to repurpose Shakesides, and pretty much guaranteed the town a provincial grant through the Heritage Legacy Fund Heritage Conservation program.
  • But council members of the Town of Comox have unanimously ignored this independent and professional advice. Instead, they have decided to reduce the building down to a pile of forgettable rubble.

What’s going on here?

Do Comox councillors lack any appreciation for history and the town’s heritage? Do they dislike pushy people — for example, the members of the Mack Laing Heritage Society — and want to tear down the building for spite?

Or both?

Either way, it’s a shame. And it’s another example of how out-of-step the Town of Comox is with the rest of the Comox Valley … and why, in the next municipal election, voters should toss the majority of them out of office.

The Town of Comox has been misusing Mack Laing’s financial gift of land and property, and cash, to maintain his home as some form of a natural history museum. The town has spent Laing’s gifted money on walkways, stairs and bridges for Brooklyn Creek — outside of the Mack Laing Park property — but hardly a cent to fulfill the last wishes of this community’s most widely admired naturalist.

Hamilton Mack Laing was a naturalist, photographer, writer and noted ornithologist, whose work from the Comox waterfront from 1922 through 1982 earned him worldwide recognition.

Laing gave his waterfront property, his home, substantial cash and personal papers from his estate to the Town of Comox “for the improvement and development of my home as a natural history museum.” The town accepted the money and, therefore, the terms of the trust.

But 34 years later, the Town of Comox has done little to satisfy his last wishes and mishandled the money Laing left, raising serious ethical and legal questions, which a provincial court may ultimate answer.

In the meantime, it’s unfathomable that seven council members and the mayor would support the demolition of a building that the provincial heritage agency and professional heritage advisors have declared has national significance.

Perhaps, the pleadings of Heritage B.C. will change the perspective of some council members. Let’s hope so.

A public and formal apology on behalf of the town for misusing Mack Laing’s financial trust for more than three decades would also be nice. But probably too much to hope for out of this council.

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