MLHS issues letter of thanks to Comox Council

MLHS issues letter of thanks to Comox Council

Mack Laing Heritage Society archive photo

By George Le Masurier

The Mack Laing Heritage Society this morning issued an open letter to the Town of Comox mayor and council. Here is their letter:

We, the Mack Laing Heritage Society of the Comox Valley (MLHS), wish to take this opportunity to thank Comox Council. Their decision to postpone any decision related to the Mack Laing Shakesides house Trust property, for three months, is to be commended.

We are encouraged that Comox appears willing to discuss their duties and obligations, as trustees of the Mack Laing Trust. We fully support an open, public, and transparent discussion between the MLHS, Council, and others.

Expert and accurate estimates of time, materials and cost should be sought regarding the conversion of Shakesides into a nature museum/house, as outlined in Mack Laing’s Will and Trust. The MLHS has found many interested local companies and individuals willing to support and assist in all aspects of this project. There are undoubtedly many more who would come forward, if a true community project is approved by Council. Cost to the taxpayer could therefore be minimal.

The MLHS will shortly issue a public position paper. We have always stated that close adherence to the terms of Mack Laing’s Will and Trust is necessary for the success of a modest nature house or museum. Therefore, we support a community-funded and supported Shakesides facility.

Soon, Shakesides could realistically become what Mack Laing intended on his death in 1982 – a small public education facility in the quiet nature park he loved, and which he donated to the citizens of Comox.

The Mack Laing Heritage Society can be contacted at







Mack Laing

Comox Town Council

Russ Arnott, Mayor:

Alex Bissinger:

Nicole Minions:

Patrick McKenna:

Ken Grant:

Maureen Swift:

Stephanie McGowan:


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The tooth fairy is only human

My daughter lost her first tooth playing outside on a late summer evening. Minutes later, I lost my parental halo after throwing the tooth fairy under the bus.

Comox must apologize for breaches of Mack Laing Trust

Comox must apologize for breaches of Mack Laing Trust

Archive photo

By George Le Masurier

Thanks to four brave new councillors, there is an opportunity to draw to a close the Town of Comox’s long history of breaching the trust of Hamilton Mack Laing and misappropriating the funds the famous naturalist left in his Last Will for the community that he loved.

Comox Town Council voted against Mayor Russ Arnott this week and set aside court proceedings to modify Mack Laing’s trust “for up to three months so that council may have discussions with all interested parties.”

Arnott cast the lone vote against the motion, contradicting statements he made during the fall municipal election campaign promising to settle this matter out of court. But new councillors Alex Bissinger, Patrick McKenna, Nicole Minions and Stephanie McGowan all spoke in favor of giving out of court discussions a chance.

Once it was clear the vote for negotiation would win, councillors Ken Grant and Maureen Swift got on board, despite voting for the court action during their previous terms.

That left Arnott alone in wanting to proceed toward an expensive court trial.

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has garnered broad community support for restoring Shakesides as a unifying and heritage-based town project. Some of those supporters believe the town will lose in court, at a minimum being ordered to submit to a forensic audit of the financial matters and forced into mediation.

The vote also put Arnott at odds with the new majority of councillors, who had campaigned for a negotiated settlement out of court.

But the question facing council is how to stop bleeding money on legal expenses — estimated by one observer to have neared or topped $100,000 — with a plan that satisfies the Laing society and is financially sustainable.

Finding that way forward won’t be easy, and yet that’s the task to accomplish in the next 90 days.

But nothing good will happen if council appoints another flawed advisory committee like former mayor Paul Ives did several years ago. That group failed to follow its own terms of reference. The outcome was so incomplete that two members of the committee wrote opposing minority reports.

And that’s why Arnott’s lone vote against at least trying to negotiate a win-win resolution is disappointing. The mayor is obviously entrenched in his position. He has now stated so for the record.

How is that going to help facilitate any open-minded and meaningful conversations over the next three months? At least returning councillors Grant and Swift had the decency to support an opportunity for positive discussions.

Here’s the problem.

Laing left money and his property to the town in a trust that specified the gifts be used to create a publicly accessible natural history museum at his home, called Shakesides.

If the CVLT had existed in 1982, they would have had legal power via a covenant to compel the Town of Comox to keep up its end of the bargain. Mack Laing deserves the same respect as Father Charles Brandt

But now, 37 years after Laing’s death in February of 1982, the town has done nothing to fulfill Laing’s wishes, even though they accepted the terms of the trust when they took his money and property. Over a year ago, the town admitted that it spent Laing’s money inappropriately for years, but only because the Mack Laing Heritage Society had amassed a mountain of evidence detailing the town’s mishandling.

Undaunted, the previous Town Council applied to the BC Supreme Court to tear down Shakesides and spend Laing’s money elsewhere. But the outcome of court actions are always uncertain. And, based on the comments of two Justices so far, the court believes the Laing society has an important case to make.

To prevent further dividing the community, the town needs to make a formal and public apology of its historic wrongdoings. Why? Answer: Because this is a moral issue.

If the town had no intention of abiding the terms of Laing’s trust, it should never have accepted the money and property. But once it did, the town had a moral obligation to follow through. And if the town can behave fast and loose with Laing’s money, what reasonable person would leave the town any gift in the future?

Comox has, so far, proven itself untrustworthy.

The Comox Valley Land Trust, and other similar conservancy organizations, were created to address this exact problem. And the CVLT is currently creating security for the wishes of Father Charles Brandt, who plans to leave his house and property on the Oyster River for a regional district public park.

If the CVLT had existed in 1982, they would have had legal power via a covenant to compel the Town of Comox to keep up its end of the bargain. Mack Laing deserves the same respect as Father Charles.

Can you imagine if the Comox Valley Regional District someday tries to alter the terms of the Father Charles covenant? The public outcry would be overwhelming. There should be no less of a voice in protest against the Town of Comox, if it follows Mayor Arnott’s example and pushes this case through the courts.

Everyone in the Comox Valley who values heritage, and honorable actions by locally-elected governments, should support a negotiated settlement.

That doesn’t mean the solution is simple. But it is possible if everyone comes to the table with an open mind and good intentions.

Mayor Arnott was asked for comment for this opinion article at 3:45 pm PST, but had not responded by 8:35 PST when it was posted. 






Hamilton Mack Laing was an important Canadian naturalist, photographer and writer. He moved to Comox in 1922, cleared his land and built his home from a “Stanhope” Aladdin Ready-Cut kit. In 1927, he married Ethel Hart of Portland and they established a successful and commercial orchard which included walnut, pecan, filbert, hazelnut, apple and plum trees. They also grew mushrooms and vegetables. After his wife, Ethel, died in 1944, he sold his original home, Baybrook, and built a new home, Shakesides, on the adjoining lot. He bequeathed the waterfront property to the Town of Comox and it became Mack Laing Nature Park

— excerpted from content on the Mack Laing Heritage Society‘s website


Click here for more on Hamilton Mack Laing and the issues with the Town or Comox


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The tooth fairy is only human

My daughter lost her first tooth playing outside on a late summer evening. Minutes later, I lost my parental halo after throwing the tooth fairy under the bus.

DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

DFO allows herring fishery, despite wide protest

Bob Cain photo

By George Le Masurier

In  a move that will certainly the federal government’s own efforts to protect Southern resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced this week that the March herring fishery would go ahead as planned.

Several groups, including Conservancy Hornby Island, and 42,000 people who signed a petition to stop this year’s herring fishery believe DFO’s action will have negative long-term impacts on chinook salmon stocks. Herring make up 80 percent of chinook salmon’s diet, and chinook comprise roughly 80 percent of Killer Whales’ food source.

Conservancy Hornby Island issued the following statement yesterday, Feb. 4:

Conservancy Hornby Island and the 42,000 and counting people who signed the petition to close down the herring roe fishery in the Strait of Georgia off the west coast of Canada are disappointed with the recent announcement made by DFO regarding the commercial fishery that will happen this March and April.

Conservancy Hornby Island president Grant Scott said, “We were hoping that DFO would listen to the people and seriously restrict this fishery that just doesn’t make sense. The quota set for 2019 is basically the same as last year. The fleet is allowed to take 27,500 tons of herring between the roe, bait and food fisheries.

This represents approximately 200,000,000 herring or the weight equivalent to the largest BC ferry full of cars, trucks and people. While 10 percent of the roe fishery will be consumed directly by people, most of this crucial part of the marine food web will be ground up into fish meal for the fish farm and pet food industries.”

Scott went on to say, “Herring is the cornerstone species for many of the mammals, fish and seabirds who live in or migrate through the Strait of Georgia. Strait of Georgia Orcas and spring salmon are listed by one arm of the federal government as “endangered” while another allows a massive herring fishery when 62% of chinook salmon diet is herring and 80% of Orca diet is chinook salmon. To kill this many
herring in the commercial fishery rather than leaving them to support these other species doesn’t make sense to us.”

DFO says SOG herring are “at or near historic highs” yet there is archaeological evidence and First Nations’ traditional knowledge that historically there was much more herring all around the Strait of Georgia. DFO calculates what it calls “historic high” based on one part of the herring run between Parksville and Comox.

At one time there were huge runs in Vancouver harbour, around the southern gulf islands and all along the Sunshine coast. They are all gone. 4 of the 5 herring spawn areas on the BC coast including Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Central Coast and the west coast of Vancouver Island are shut down because of over fishing Given DFO’s poor track record in sustainably managing herring on our coast it is hard for us to believe the SOG herring around Hornby and Denman won’t eventually go the same way.

Recently we have received a lot of support from the sports fishing and whale watching industries who say that combined they earned approximately $500,000,000 and employed thousands of people full time in 2016, compared to the herring fishery that generated $56,000,00 and fewer than 100 full-time equivalent jobs according to the BC Ministry of Agriculture statistics division that. They say herring are critical for the salmon and whales that are the basis of their businesses and an essential element of “Super Natural BC”, an image we like to sell to the world.

In summary, we think it makes much more sense to leave these fish in the ocean not only for environmental reasons but because it makes good economic sense.

For more information contact: Grant Scott, CHI president, 250-218-2323



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The tooth fairy is only human

My daughter lost her first tooth playing outside on a late summer evening. Minutes later, I lost my parental halo after throwing the tooth fairy under the bus.

The Week: housing issues, sure, but this study is nonsense

The Week: housing issues, sure, but this study is nonsense

No, the sky is not falling on the Comox Valley nor are people being attacked by birds  /  George Le Masurier photo  (undoctored, only tonal adjustments)

By George Le Masurier

So yet another ill-constructed study has maligned the poor Comox Valley. We can now add “Fifth Most Unaffordable Housing Market” to our designations as “Highest Crime Rate” and “Worst Air Quality.” Well, maybe there’s some truth to that last one.

The latest study — concocted by Wendell Cox on his website — compared median house prices to median household income in nine countries, and then ranked cities or regions for their housing affordability. The Comox Valley ranked fifth worst in B.C.

There’s no doubt the Comox Valley has a housing affordability problem. Prices have never been higher. Rental vacancy rates have almost never been lower. It’s a problem that affects almost every community on the BC coast.

But as Courtenay Councillor Melanie McCollum has pointed out, the study is flawed.

“There is no doubt we have serious affordability issues in our community – however that study is seriously flawed and written by a pro-greenfield expansion/urban sprawl think tank that uses some questionable methods for its data analysis,” McCollum wrote on social media.

Real Estate Wire has called the study “nonsense” for five important reasons, which you can read about here. Though we should mention that Mr. Cox is an urban planner who promotes private automobiles over public transportation.

But the Comox Valley’s housing issues are real. Prices are high and partly driven by out-of-town buyers from even more expensive markets. There’s little incentive for investors to build apartment buildings, but when they do local governments rarely use tools to require a percentage of the units to rent at below-market rates.

Courtenay has two affordable housing projects on the go. The Braidwood Housing Project (35 units) and a supportive housing project (46 units).

Election polls aren’t any more reliable than flawed housing studies.

BC pollsters predicted a Liberal Party win in the Nanaimo provincial byelection, estimated that Liberal Tony Harris had an eight-point lead over NDP candidate, Sheila Malcolmson. The NDP won by a 10-point margin.

It appears not every NDPer is willing to throw Premier John Horgan to the wolves over the Site C Dam project.

  Who was it that said there was no danger from sewage pipes and pump lift stations near or in our foreshores? No one in Sechelt would believe them after a pump station failed and 10,000 litres of raw sewage dumped into the Salish Sea.

Fortunately, the Comox Valley Regional District is in the process of taking a long look at the best options for delivering and treating sewage. That could, and should, include moving sewage pipes out of the K’omoks Estuary and taking an overland route to the Brent Road treatment plant.

  Congratulations to the Comox Valley Regional District parks department for widening trails and improving access to Nymph Falls. We’re sure this isn’t a direct response to 3L Developments’ attempts to block public access to Stotan Falls, but it couldn’t come at a better time for those wanting a river swim this summer.

  Finally, a recent budget decision by the Comox-Strathcona Regional Hospital Board might shed some light on why there were serious design flaws in the new Comox Valley and Campbell River hospitals. Board Chair Charlie Cornfield says the board plans to spend $100,000 on decorative water fountains.


If the hospitals really need some visual improvements, how about commissioning some of the north Island’s excellent sculptors for eye-catching entry features?

Better yet, forget the idea altogether — although we do support public art — because there are bigger problems at the hospitals, which the hospital board has done its best to deny and ignore.



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The tooth fairy is only human

My daughter lost her first tooth playing outside on a late summer evening. Minutes later, I lost my parental halo after throwing the tooth fairy under the bus.

Father Charles Brandt: a long and winding journey

Father Charles Brandt: a long and winding journey

Father Charles by a writing desk on the main floor of his original cabin  /  George Le Masurier photos

By George Le Masurier

Father Charles Brandt made a long and winding journey from a farm in rural Missouri to the Comox Valley. Along the way, it took him through New York, Louisiana, Mexico City, Oklahoma and Iowa, with side trips through Switzerland, Italy, England, Ottawa and Winnipeg.

He eventually found his way to the Tsolum River where he lived with a group of hermits and, a little later, on his own 27-acre hermitage along the Oyster River.

This week, just 19 days before his 96th birthday, Father Charles donated a conservation covenant over his land to the Comox Valley Land Trust. The covenant protects the land from development, logging or other activities in perpetuity, regardless of any change in ownership over time. The CVLT will hold the covenant, although Brandt plans to gift his property to the Comox Valley Regional District for a public park.

It’s a remarkable donation, not only for its charity or its demonstration of love for nature, but also because it happened at all.

The boy who was raised as a Methodist and converted to Anglicanism, was once on track to the Anglican priesthood. But as his interests in communicating with God through nature and in living as a hermit grew, Brandt later converted to Catholicism. He was officially ordained as a hermit-priest, the first in 200 years, in the Roman Catholic Church in Courtenay in 1966.

But Brandt told Decafnation in an interview just over a month ago that he wasn’t always so certain about his future vocation. He had many questions and doubts along the way.

Still, Brandt said, he subconsciously knew he wanted to live a contemplative life within nature.

As a young Boy Scout he slept in the wild and kept absolute silence for 24 hours. He had a passion for birding, which with scouting, were his first connections to the natural world. He studied ornithology at Cornell University. He became an internationally known master bookbinder. By the age of 13, he had read Henry David Thoreau’s epic book, Walden.

Uncertain early beginnings

Charles Brandt was born on Feb. 19, 1923 in Kansas City, Missouri to his Danish-English parents, Alvin Rudolph Brandt-Yde and Ann Chester Bridges, who were Methodists. When the family moved to a farm outside the city when Brandt was five years old, Brandt had his first experiences with the natural world.

“Every tree had a bird’s nest in it … it was amazing to me,” Brandt said in an interview published last year on “When I was quite young, I felt we should have contact with God … it was just kind of an intuition.”

“The monastery life doesn’t provide enough time for meditation and prayer. They’re workaholics.”

And when a relative introduced him at age 13 to the works of Henry David Thoreau, he read Walden, which he now says was his first awareness of the hermit life. But the idea didn’t have time to fully sink in.

After graduating from high school in 1941, he started post-secondary studies at the University of Missouri. But that was interrupted by the draft and a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force. He trained primarily as a navigator, but also bombardiering, something he questioned with a military chaplain. But the chaos of war didn’t give him space to think more about it.

Brandt says now that he wouldn’t consider himself a conscious objector. He calls himself nonviolent, but ready to take a stand when there is a reason.

“If I had known what was going on in Germany, I would have been there from the beginning,” he said.

After the war, Brandt chose to study at Cornell University in New York State because they had an ornithology department. But he quickly decided against pursuing that course of studies, and was, for a time, uncertain about his vocation.

Brandt had come into contact with the Anglican Church while in the military. So when he attended a summer religious retreat during his second year at Cornell, at age 25, he began thinking of the Anglican priesthood and was ordained into the church in 1948.

Brandt meets Merton

But after reading the book The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton he started thinking about the monastic life, and becoming a Roman Catholic. So after visiting a Catholic priest in Louisiana and carrying on to Mexico City to visit the shrine of the Lady of Guadalupe, Brandt decided to study theology with Benedictine monks in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He spent a year there as a choir monk, and was officially “received” into the Catholic Church.

Brandt’s next stop on his journey to the Comox Valley was a religious order farm in Bardstown, Kentucky, known as the Abbey of Gethsemani. He learned bookbinding there and met one of the great influences on his life, Thomas Merton, in person.

Brandt then spent eight years as a Trappist monk in the New Melleray monastery in Iowa. He honed his skills as a bookbinder there, eventually taking charge of the bindery. But he found the Trappist life too rigid. Brandt had become more and more interested in a contemplative life.

So Brandt wrote a letter to Thomas Merton, who responded that he should try it.

“He (Merton) told me the monastery life doesn’t provide enough time for meditation and prayer. It’s too busy,” Brandt said. “They’re workaholics.”

The responding letter remains a treasured possession of Brandt’s.

“I had just heard about some hermits on Vancouver Island,” Brandt told Decafnation. “I visited them in March of 1965 … and never looked back.”

Since that time, Brandt has practiced a different and little known kind of Christian prayer. It’s a type of Christian meditation advocated by Merton, and made popular by the Trappist monk Thomas Keating.

“By comparison, it makes traditional Christian contemplative prayer feel outdated,” Brandt said. “It’s a willingness to be present to God, to accept his actions within us.”

Brandt continues to host a monthly meditations for a select group of about 10 people at the Oyster River Hermitage.

Covenant decision not easy

Although Brandt owns his property — he purchased it for $9,000 in 1965 — he needed the blessing of the Bishop of Victoria, who briefly considered bringing another hermit to live there.

“I thought it would be difficult to sign the document for the covenant,” Brandt said. “I lose a little security making the covenant, but I still own the property and could sell it, but for much less value with the covenant on it.

“Kind of a temptation,” he said.

But when the covenant was offered to him he said, yes, because, “It’s always good to say yes … just the idea leads to things we don’t know about.”

Brandt will continue to live in the small cabin — sometimes called The Hermitage or Merton’s House –that he built from lumber salvaged from a house he tore down in south Courtenay. Former Vanier Principal Hank Schellink found the house for him, and Brandt lived there while dismantling it.

“They (doctors) hold immense power,” he said. “Not being able to drive would hold me down.”

Before his moved his cabin from the Tsolum area to the Oyster River property, the local Knights of Columbus built a foundation for him. And they used a low-bed trailer to transport the building.

“But the posts on the bridge across the Tsolum River were blocking our passage,” he said. “So they cut the top off the posts to get the cabin across — no one ever knew.”

While the protective covenant covers the whole property, Brant’s cabin and the road to it will be held by a private society comprising members of his Hermitage Advisory Committee. The group helped Brandt navigate the complex legal paperwork required, and to assist in raising the $20,000 to pay for it.

The possibility remains for a new hermit to someday live in the cabin.

“It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a monk, it could be someone with a little monastic training and an environmentalist,” he said.


Brandt has supported himself mostly through bookbinding, a skill he first learned at the Gethsemani Abbey and later perfected at an Iowa monastery. But it was his interest in learning more about archival paper conservation that changed his life.

Through a friend, he left the hermitage to study paper at the New England Document Center in Massachusetts, and quickly rose to the head of its bindery division within a year. That led to an offer from a bindery in Ascona, Switzerland, where he went to learn more about paper and binding. And that, in turn, created an offer to work as a conservator on many of Canada’s art treasures at the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa, where he spent five years and earned a small pension. From there, Brandt moved to Winnipeg to set up an conservation centre for the provincial government.

He lived away from his Oyster River hermitage from 1973 to 1984, an absence he likens to St. Paul, who travelled building tents.

“I bound books,” he said.

Brandt found bookbinding to fit perfectly with his contemplative lifestyle.

“I found it very meditative, especially sewing the book together. It’s very relaxing,” he said. “And I was preserving humanity, its culture, something I thought quite worthwhile.”

Next steps

As Brandt prepares for the end of life, he’s trying to get all of his affairs in order. Yet, he’s troubled by a few things.

He’s unsure what will happen to his collection of 20,000 digital photographs and his “stacks of slides” that contain images chronicling his time as a hermit.

“Whoever moves in here will need to catalog them,” he said. “They might be historically valuable in time.”

But with his 96th birthday looming on Feb. 19, his biggest concern centers on his driver’s licence. It’s a topic his doctor has raised.

“They (doctors) hold immense power,” he said. “Not being able to drive would hold me down.”

After two hours of conversation, Brandt apologized for ending our interview. He had an important meeting in Campbell River. So, refusing help to descend his deck stairs, the nearly 96-year-old bookbinder and hermit-priest climbed into his Westfalia van and drove off.





Hermit, also called Eremite, one who retires from society, primarily for religious reasons, and lives in solitude. In Christianity the word (from Greek erēmitēs, “living in the desert”) is used interchangeably with anchorite, although the two were originally distinguished on the basis of location: an anchorite selected a cell attached to a church or near a populous centre, while a hermit retired to the wilderness.

The first Christian hermits appeared by the end of the 3rd century in Egypt, where one reaction to the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Decius was flight into the desert to preserve the faith and to lead a life of prayer and penance. Paul of Thebes, who fled to the desert about 250, has been considered the first hermit.



Decafnation asked Chris Hilliar for his thoughts about Father Charles’ protection of his land and its potential gift to the public. Hilliar is a member of the Hermitage Advisory Committee

“No one who has known Father Charles will be surprised at the recent announcement of his gift of property as future parkland for the Comox Valley Regional District. This gift is, I think, the final expression of his love for the Earth. It is entirely in keeping with both his character and his philosophy of life. Seldom will you speak with Father Charles that at some point he won’t paraphrase Thomas Berry as saying that, “the human community and the natural world must come together in single sacred harmony or perish in the desert”. I think he believed this to the very core and he lived it too.

“The Hermitage as his house and land became known was his own privately owned property. Charles logged it. I do not think he thought his land should be a pristine wilderness devoid of the touch of mankind. Rather, I think he wanted to log his land to show that it could be done sustainably, that the forest could have trees removed and still be a healthy forest. I think he wanted to at least prove to himself that he could benefit from his property but still live in harmony with it and be a healthy member of its ecosystem.

“I think he achieved his goal. Whenever I visit Charles I always park my truck at the outer gate and walk the long, winding gravel road to his house. It is a contemplative walk and I intentionally breathe deeply and am mindful of my steps. By the time I reach the house I am calm and relaxed, (as I should be to visit a hermit priest). And this of course is a small part of the daily walk that Charles has taken on his property over the past decades. He walks, he communes with nature, and he lives his philosophy.

“People of the Comox Valley will benefit from his parkland gift for years to come, but Charles has also taken steps to ensure that the Hermitage will remain a house of contemplation after his passing. This too is a wonderful legacy for the Comox Valley.”



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The tooth fairy is only human

My daughter lost her first tooth playing outside on a late summer evening. Minutes later, I lost my parental halo after throwing the tooth fairy under the bus.