Is this the future of Shakesides? Photo shows the site of Mack Laing’s original home, Baybrook  /  George Le Masurier photo

Heritage BC joins fight to save Shakesides, warns AG of dangerous precedent

Sep 4, 2019 | Mack Laing, News

By George Le Masurier

Demolition of the famous naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home could have reverberations throughout British Columbia for heritage conservation.

That’s the message from the province’s leading heritage conservation organization, which has thrown its weight behind the Mack Laing Heritage Society’s effort to stop the Town of Comox from demolishing the house, known as Shakesides.

Paul Gravett, executive director of Heritage BC, has urged BC Attorney General David Eby not to condone the “demolition by neglect” practice being used by the Town of Comox.

“If the court allows the terms of Mr. Laing’s trust to be altered, a precedent could be established that would discourage future donors, who fear their wishes could be altered or ignored, from making important gifts of real property. This poses a threat to the conservation of B.C.’s heritage,” Gravett wrote in a letter to the attorney general.

“The current state of Shakesides is a form of ‘demolition by neglect.’ this is a wholly unacceptable and irresponsible practice that results in the slow degradation of our historic environment. It should not be condoned,” he wrote.

Gravett has also filed an affidavit in the BC Supreme Court case that will decide Shakesides’ fate. The Town of Comox has petitioned the court to alter the terms of their trust agreement with Mack Laing, which would allow them to demolish the house and spend the sizable monetary trust Laing left the town in other ways.

The Mack Laing Heritage Society has opposed the town’s petition and will be a party to the case when it is heard. No court date has been set, but the case will likely go to trial this fall.

Gravett said the building, which still stands on its original site, is restorable.

“The proposal (by Comox) to demolish the structure is antithetical to heritage conservation and environmental conservation,” he wrote to AG Eby. “Shakesides should not be allowed to become landfill.”

In his affidavit, Gravett notes that he urged the town two years ago to reconsider its pursuit of court permission to demolish Shakesides. At the same time, he offered the town his organization’s “advice, capacity building training and assistance with conservation planning” to save the building.

Gravett also offered financial assistance through grants from the Heritage Legacy Fund program.

The Town of Comox rejected both offers.

“The replacement of Shakesides with the proposed viewing platform is inappropriate,” Gravett wrote to AG Eby. “The viewing platform would not stand as a memorial to Mr. Laing or the values of a community, but as the neglect of our history and heritage and the disregard of a philanthropist’s wishes.”

The BC Association of Heritage Professionals has also written to the attorney general in opposition to the Town of Comox petition.

 

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