The purposeful neglect of the Mack Laing heritage house by the Town of Comox has reached a new low.
Hamilton Mack Laing gave his house, known as Shakesides, along with a substantial sum of money in his Last Will and Testament for the purpose of converting it into a public natural history museum. Laing, an internationally respected naturalist and ornithologist, died in 1982.
But the town has done nothing over the intervening 35 years to comply with Laing’s last wishes, and has intentionally let the building fall into disrepair. Council members apparently hope their neglect will garner support for the effort to tear it down.
But the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) hopes to preserve Shakesides in its current condition, at least until the B.C. Supreme Court rules on the town’s application to demolish the building. That seems reasonable.
And it was in that spirit that MLHS offered to place a tarp on the roof of Shakesides to prevent moisture from entering the building through a decades-old roof and to stop further deterioration of the famous naturalist’s home on Comox Bay.With another wet winter in the forecast, council members should have accepted the offer. Especially because MLHS members proposed to pay the entire labor cost of a professional installation.
And they made this offer with plenty of time to get such a simple task done over last spring and summer.
MLHS President J-Kris Nielsen first presented the group’s offer verbally at a Committee of the Whole meeting on March 22, 2017, complete with projected costs. He followed that up with an April 17 letter to the town detailing a work plan that included drawings and itemized material costs totalling $1,892.80.
The letter was officially stamped “Received” on April 20, 2017.
Seven months later, the town has yet to respond. Not a letter. Not an email. Not a phone call.
The Town of Comox voted unanimously in February to ask the B.C. Supreme Court to release the town from the terms of the trust established by Laing’s Last Will. That would allow them to demolish the house. No court date has been set.
So the council might have figured, why spend even $1,800 to preserve a building we hope to tear down? Fair enough, but doesn’t decency require a reply to well-intentioned citizens, at the least?
And consider this:
The town has hired the law firm Young & Anderson to make their case for demolition to the province’s high court. If they succeed, the town has committed to spend around $300,000 of taxpayer’s money to pay lawyers, demolish the building and build a viewing platform.
Yet council members can’t find $1,800 for a group of passionate citizens to tarp the roof? The MLHS might have even paid the whole bill if council had made a civil response.
It’s shameful. But no surprise.
For 35 years, the Town of Comox has neglected the last wishes of this important literary and ornithological person, and mismanaged his trusts. It’s shameful how the town has claimed Laing’s celebrity, when convenient, but has always ignored his desire for a legacy.
Those who prefer to save Shakesides have criticized council and pressured them to act. But that’s no justification for a town government to disrespect its citizens. Or act vindictively. They deserved a reply.
And, really, it seems only fair to put a tarp on a leaking roof until the Supreme Court hears the case, because there’s no guarantee how the court will rule, or view the town’s behavior in this matter.
Meanwhile, Shakesides recently suffered another attack by pretend graffiti artists.
Like the graffiti attack in April, vandals again spray-painted the historical home with lame images. It wasn’t serious tagging, much less artwork.
These latest vandals might be the same person or group of people. They just made a better effort. We’ll never know for sure.
But it is interesting that, like the last attack, no other sign, bridge, post or tree was spray-painted. That makes it likely that this defacing of public property is somehow connected to the political and legal battle over the preservation of Laing’s home.
And, of course, the defacing fits nicely with the Town Council’s policy of intentional neglect.