Mount Washington hopes to open Dec. 7

Mount Washington hopes to open Dec. 7

File photo by George Le Masurier

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Mount Washington expects to open on Dec. 7 … if the weather cooperates. The first big storm of the season arrived on the Vancouver Island east coast Sunday night, Nov. 25, although it brought mostly high winds and little precipitation. 

The ski hill received an initial heavy snowfall late last week, but it did not continue over the weekend. And Environment Canada isn’t predicting any more snow in the next few days. The mountain’s website is currently reporting 4 cm of snow in the last 48 hours, but a 0cm base. Temperatures have been relatively mild this November.

The Environment Canada forecast for this week shows light rain showers but no snow at Mount Washington. But the forecast also shows temperatures steadily dropping throughout the week, which could turn that drizzle into snow.

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New Comox Council will protect Shakesides from leaky roof

New Comox Council will protect Shakesides from leaky roof

File photo by George Le Masurier

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For nearly two years, the former Comox mayor and council ignored requests by the Mack Laing Heritage Society to tarp the roof of famed naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home to prevent further water damage.

But just weeks after being elected, a new mayor and council voted unanimously to cover the roof, following another request from the Heritage Society.

A large chestnut tree near Shakesides — the name Laing gave his home on Comox Bay — has rubbed off some of the roof’s shakes during high winds, causing leaks.

MLHS President J-Kris Nielsen first made the request at a Committee of the Whole meeting on March 22, 2017. He followed that up with an April 17 letter to the town detailing a work plan and itemized material costs totalling $1,892.80. The letter was officially stamped “Received” on April 20, 2017.

But the town never responded to Nielsen, even after follow-up enquiries.

Nielsen sent a new proposal on Oct. 28, a week after this fall’s municipal elections “to stop the ongoing deterioration of the structure, Shakesides.” This one made it to the council table.

New Councillor Alex Bissinger said covering the leaky roof was an urgent issue, and asked if town staff could do the work more quickly than hiring an outside contractor. New Mayor Russ Arnott said he thought the work could be done in two weeks with an outside contractor.

Nielsen’s proposal to council also included an invitation “for negotiations between the Town of Comox and MLHS to reach an agreement (on the future of Shakesides) for the benefit of all ratepayers.”

The town petitioned the BC Supreme Court in February of 2017 to vary the terms of its trust agreement with Hamilton Mack Laing, which made the town the trustees of his house and property, with conditions. The town cited sections of the BC Community Charter for its petition.

The MLHS opposed altering the trust and applied for intervenor status in the court action. Since then, the town has engaged in a year-long expensive legal battle to prevent the heritage society from presenting its more than 400 pages of evidence to the court, without the petition yet being heard.

Although the court has now allowed the society to present its evidence, if the case goes to trial, Nielsen said the MLHS hopes to work out a solution with the town and “never go back to court.”
Council members were also presented with an MLHS business plan for restoring Shakesides as a nature house as Mack Laing specified in the 1973 indenture with the Town of Comox.

Councillor Bissinger suggested postponing a vote on meeting with the MLHS until after Christmas, and have the MLHS present their plan to council. New Councillor Pat McKenna asked if deferring to February would be okay with the court. Mayor Arnott said he thought it would.

Supreme Court Justice Douglas W. Thompson gave the town until Nov. 30 to respond to the business plan and another new affidavit, which has been extended to Jan. 16. That date that can be amended again by mutual consent.

Town Council voted to defer the society’s invitation to meet until February, when all council members would be in town.

Gordon Olsen, a leading advocate for honoring the terms of Laing’s vision for his home, recently spoke at the 2018 annual meeting of the BC Heritage and Cultural Professions about the Laing issue. His presentation was titled, “Making or breaking heritage — The legal battle for interpreting the true vision of Mack Laing’s trust in Comox.”

Olsen praised the new Town Council for addressing the issue, and said he was hopeful that meaningful conversations could now occur.

Jim Boulter contributed to the reporting of this story.

 

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Wells elected CVRD chair, Hamir vice-chair

Wells elected CVRD chair, Hamir vice-chair

George Le Masurier photo

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By George Le Masurier

Newly-elected Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells has been elected to chair the Comox Valley Regional District board. Wells represented the City of Courtenay on the CVRD for the past four years, along with former mayor Larry Jangula and Councillor Mano Theos.

At its inaugural meeting Tuesday, Nov. 20, directors also elected new Area B Director Arzeena Hamir as vice-chair. This is Hamir’s first time in public office.

There are seven new faces at the CVRD board table this year: Daniel Arbour, Area A; David Frisch, Courtenay; Hamir; Doug Hillian, Courtenay; Jesse Ketler, Cumberland; Wendy Morin, Courtenay; and, Maureen Swift, Comox.

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Winter storms mean flood risk along the Oyster

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By George Le Masurier

With winter rain storms building off the Vancouver Island coast, the risk of flooding looms over those who live along the Oyster River.

The Comox Valley Regional District will host an information sharing open house at 6:30 pm on Thursday, Nov. 22 at the Oyster River Fire Hall, 2241 Catherwood Road. CVRD staff will present a recently completed flood risk assessment of the area, along with maps and other information from the study.

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Art Alchemy shows 250 square feet of art

Art Alchemy shows 250 square feet of art

By George Le Masurier

Art Alchemy, the Comox Valley art collective born out of a desire for more places to see local art, will hang its eighth annual Square Foot Art show this weekend

This article was updated Nov. 20 to include a quote from painter Sofie Skapski

H elen Utsal came to the Comox Valley to paint. She pictured a place “riddled with artists” and wanted to become part of the cultural scene that, she assumed, would have an abundance of public places to see the art created here.

She found something quite different when she arrived. There was, in fact, an abundance of artists working in a variety of mediums. But they mostly worked in isolation from each other, at home and in small out-of-the-way studios, and they all had little visibility in the community.

“It was and still is a struggle for local artists to get their work shown,” Utsal told Decafnation. “There’s just not many places to see art.”

So Utsal began forming the idea of a Comox Valley collective of artists who would create their own gallery and studio space, and share overhead costs.

She rekindled a plan by fellow artists Lucy Schappy and Jennifer Weber to take a chance on renting a space for a studio and gallery. They found a small space in Comox, but it fell through when the physiotherapists that owned the building decided to expand their own office.

Undaunted, Utsal formed the West Coast Art Collective during the winter of 2010-2011 with other nine Comox Valley artists who shared the dream of making local art more visible. The collective staged their first exhibition — a selection of 12-inch by 12-inch canvases they called The Square Foot Show — in June of 2011 at the now-defunct Purple Onion cafe in Comox.

Two years later, Utsal, Shappy, Weber and two new artists, Stacey Wright and Guillermo Mier, found the perfect space at 10th Street in Courtenay, above United Floors. It’s bright, has high ceilings and big windows and is large enough for all nine artists to have both studio and gallery space. They named the new endeavor Art Alchemy.

The artists at Art Alchemy have changed over the years, but the goal of having a place for artists to share their creative vibe and camaraderie has remained a constant.

And so has the Square Foot Show.

The nine current artists of Art Alchemy will be joined this weekend by 38 other mostly Comox Valley artists for the eighth annual Square Foot Show. (Friday, Nov. 23 from 7 pm to 10 pm, and Saturday and Sunday, from 11 am to 5 pm.)


Art Alchemy artists:  Mary Gorman,Shea Kottila, Sharon Lalonde, Larissa McLean, Nancy Randall Burger, Sofie Skapski, Helen Utsal, Nicolette Valikoski, Maggie Ziegler


It’s the first year the show has been juried and that submissions were accepted through a digital process.

“The whole purpose is to support artists and encourage them,” Utsal said.

Most serious art buyers have traditionally lived in larger cities, where cultural demands are greater.

“The Comox Valley is not a prime market,” Utsal said, noting that most local professional artists — those who support themselves through their art — sell to buyers in Vancouver, Toronto and internationally. “But that’s changing. Our population of art collectors is growing.”

Twenty-five artists have passed through the collective in its first seven years. Artists will rent space for two or three years and then move on, creating their own studios or moving from the area.

Sofie Skapski, one of the current artists at Art Alchemy, describes the experience like this: “I love our studio space here at Art Alchemy because of the openness and the wonderful light. It is important to me to work within a group because working alone in a studio can be isolating. Here we have camaraderie – we inspire each other in a supportive atmosphere but at the same time still maintain our privacy in our own personal spaces.

As the only remaining founder of the collective, Utsal has assumed the role of Art Alchemy’s principal artist, which means she takes on most of its administrative chores, like organizing the exhibitions. But it’s made easy by the “generous cooperative spirit we value and encourage.”

“Everyone pipes up, we’re all protective of the vibe,” she said.

This weekend’s Square Foot show is one of two exhibitions staged annually by Art Alchemy. They have another proprietary show in June that coincides with the Valley-wide art studio tour. And Art Alchemy artists also display their work at the Comox Valley Airport from May through October each year.

The Art Alchemy studio gallery is open to the public at 362C 10th Street in Courtenay. It’s open to the public from 11 am to 5 pm on Saturdays, or “whenever the door is open.”

 

 

 

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