The Week: No new snow, no new bridges and no new beds

The Week: No new snow, no new bridges and no new beds

No vicious circles or circular reasoning here. Just a set of points on a place all equal distance from its core, the centre. Photo by George Le Masurier

The Week: No new snow, no new bridges and no new beds


This article has been updated to correct information about School District 71 school buses

Every homeowner knows that when you delay repairs to your house, they just get worse and more expensive to fix with the longer you wait. Courtenay City Council learned that lesson this week about the Fifth Street Bridge.

Back in 2015, City Council decided to save money by recoating the bridge rather than undertake more costly renovations. At that time, the recoating and some deck repairs were estimated to cost $2.2 million. But council discovered this week that price had ballooned to $6.3 million and is still not underway.

The nearly 60-year-old bridge could be nearing the end of its life span. Although structural engineers say lifestimes of 100 years are achievable with appropriate maintenance planning and if durable materials were used in construction.

This crossing of the Courtenay River is the only bridge for which the city is responsible. The 17th Street and North Connector bridges fall under provincial jurisdiction.

Don’t expect seat belts in Comox Valley school buses in the near future. In a statement to a local media query, School District 71 said it was aware of a CBC series on school bus safety that found seat belts could have prevented thousands of injuries and many deaths.

Transport Canada, however, doesn’t think seat belts are necessary in school buses. “Transport Canada has declared school buses are already designed to protect children in a crash,” according to the SD71 statement reported by The GOAT.

The CBC reported that Transport Canada’s position against seat belts is “based largely on a 1984 study.” And the CBC investigation shows that “government officials have known for years that seat belts save lives and prevent injuries on school buses — information the department has kept hidden from the public.”

Let’s hope there’s no reason to question Transport Canada while they pull their heads out of the sand.

If voters decide against proportional representation in the electoral reform referendum that concludes at 4.30 p.m. today, some fingers might get pointed at the mainstream media, including the Comox Valley Record.

An analysis of major media coverage of the referendum by Fair Vote Canada, an organization the supports proportional representation, found most newspapers tilted coverage against reform, if they covered it at all.

The Comox Valley Record, one of many newspaper owned by Black Press, refused to print any pro-PR columns written by Pat Carl, the publicist for Fair Vote Comox Valley, although it printed anti-PR material sent by the Black Press head office.

And, The Record also found itself in violation of campaign advertising regulations by printing a full-page advertorial written by Kevin Anderson without a proper authorization statement on file. After Megan Ardyche, Fair Vote’s volunteer coordinator, complained to Elections BC, Anderson was registered retroactively as a third-party advertiser.

In a letter to Fair Vote supports, Ardyche wondered why the newspaper didn’t know the legalities of election advertising. Good question.

Decafnation received a kind note from Gwyn Sproule this week in which she praised women newly elected to local governments.

“It certainly is a joy to sit at the regional district board table and see so many young professional women entering local politics. I applaud them. It’s tough to be in politics as well as manage a family.” Well said.

While we have been enjoying some unseasonably warm and dry late-fall weather in the Comox Valley, some of us are a little worried about the upcoming ski season. Mt. Washington has delayed its originally opening date — today! — because there just isn’t any snow on the mountain.

Temperatures have dropped this week, however, and the mountain has made snow on the lower runs. But the ski hill says it needs a good three-foot base to open, and that may take awhile.

Why has Island Health delayed announcing contract awards to build the promised 151 new long-term care beds in the Comox Valley. Long-term care patients take up acute care beds in the Comox Valley Hospital, one of the factors in its ongoing overcapacity problems. And exhausted caregivers at home need help.

Island Health says it will still meet the 2020 deadline for having the beds open, but that’s looking like an overly-optimistic statement with every passing day.

Despite our enquiries, Island Health won’t say specifically why they’ve missed the Aug. 31 date to get the project underway. Do any insiders out there have a better read on the situation?

Despite Island Health’s efforts, overcapacity still plagues hospitals, stresses staff

Despite Island Health’s efforts, overcapacity still plagues hospitals, stresses staff

Photo by George Le Masurier

Despite Island Health’s efforts, overcapacity still plagues hospitals, stresses staff


This month, like last month, and the month before that and every month since the two new North Island Hospitals opened last year, they have been overcapacity.

So on most days, staff at the Courtenay and Campbell hospitals struggle to find space to put as many as 30-plus extra patients, and the peak hospitalization season that coincides with the influenza season is just getting started.

Overcapacity at the brand new hospitals is not the only critical health care need in the Comox Valley — see the sidebar story on long-term care beds — but it is a serious issue for overburdened hospital workers. And it does not bode well for communities with growing populations, and for whom the capacities of these hospitals were expected to be adequate until 2025.

The new Comox Valley Hospital opened on Oct. 1, 2017 with staff and patients budgeted for 129 beds. It was almost immediately plagued with overcapacity.

Patient numbers soared as high as 178 within a few months, a situation that has continued throughout the year and led to predictable consequences.

Staff trying to care for up to 49 extra Comox Valley patients became stressed and exhausted. They took sick days to recover, which created daily staff shortages and exacerbated the workload problems, according to sources.

Overcapacity also plagues Campbell River Hospital, where the maximum 95 beds were opened quickly and still runs overcapacity.

And it is not good for patients housed in makeshift accommodations at both hospitals.

Dermot Kelly, Island Health executive director for the region, told Decafnation that all hospitals across BC have overcapacity issues, and that the two North Island Hospitals are following an official Overcapacity Protocol.

Kelly said the protocol includes a number of steps to mitigate the overcapacity problems, including “working to reduce the length of stay within hospital, and improve access to care in the community.”

Community access measures include “increasing Home Support hours, implementation of Overnight Care Teams, new specialized services for those with Mental Health and Substance Use Challenges and improved supports for those who are medically frail,” he said.

And, he said the hospitals are working to increase access to Adult Day Programs and respite services “to better support the needs of patients and caregivers in the community.”

And the Comox Valley Hospital recently opened an additional 17 beds, for a total of 146 open beds (of the hospital’s maximum capacity of 153) with increased staffing levels, and moved out 21 long-term care patients, most of them going to a renovated floor at the former St. Joseph’s General Hospital.

Island Health has also increased the number of surgeries at the two hospitals, Kelly said. While that has reduced surgery wait times, it has also increased the number of hospital visits and stays.

But those efforts have so far not reduced patient levels to capacity or below.

The number of admitted patients ranged from 160 to 170 throughout October, reaching a high of 177 on Oct. 12. Those numbers are expected to increase significantly as the annual influenza season gets underway this month.

Sources have told Decafnation that extra patients at CVH have been housed in an unopened section of the emergency room. These patients are on stretchers, without standard beds or the same healing environment as regular rooms.

The Campbell River Hospital also remains dramatically overcapacity, but unlike the Comox Valley it has no unopened space to house them. Sources say patients are parked in hallways.


Overcapacity raises staff issues

A CVH source, who requested anonymity, said the overcapacity issues have kept staff morale low.

“We opened up a new ward and the morale is still not wonderful,” a source told Decafnation. “We are overcapacity everyday, and patients are getting discharged too early. I know this because the exact same patients that were discharged are back two days later.”

“People are without beds and there’s a full ward of aging population in the emergency overflow areas,” another source said. “We put elderly people in the pediatric ward sometimes. This causes so many issues.”

For some CVH workers, stress is caused by too many vacant positions, which forces staff into overtime, and because some departments didn’t get extra staff when the last hospital ward was opened.

Kelly said there were 91 vacant staff positions as of Dec. 6 between the two hospitals, which he blamed partly on the region’s rental and housing affordability issues that “directly impacted our ability to fill vacant positions and retain staff.”

Campbell River sources tell Decafnation that their hospital had more than 130 admitted patients last week. The hospital was designed for a maximum capacity of 95.

Campbell River staff are concerned that patient-to-nurse ratios are not being met. Overtime is rampant, they say, and staff is “being run off their feet.”

“Patients are now located in emergency rooms,” the source said. “Third floor sunrooms have been converted to bedrooms and two patients per room is common.

“There are rooms where one of the two patients has an infectious condition that should be in isolation.”

Our source said they feared this could cause a MRSA or similar infection alert.

But Kelly said Island Health’s Over Capacity Protocols ensure safe care in the hospitals.

“In cases of over census, guidelines for care have been developed to ensure we provide the best care possible. Our main goal is to provide safe and effective care in the most appropriate setting possible,” he said.

And he praised the hospitals’ staff as “incredibly passionate and dedicated, sometimes under challenging circumstances.”








As a strike by care workers at two Comox Valley assisted living facilities enters its sixth day, many people are wondering what happened to the 151 additional long-term care beds promised by Island Health last year?

The critical shortage of long-term care and respite beds in the Comox Valley continues to cause problems for at home caregivers, many of whom are exhausted and in crisis. And it causes overcapacity issues at the Comox Valley Hospital, where patient s who need long-term care are stuck in acute care beds.

The contract award for new beds is already three months late and, according to an Island Health spokesperson, no announcement is imminent.

Island Health issued a Request for Proposal for 70 new long-term care beds over three years ago, but cancelled it a year later, and issued a new RFP this year. The health authority said it would award contracts by Aug. 31 of this year.

When it missed that deadline, Island Health said the contracts would be announced later in the fall. Now, three months later, the contracts have still not been awarded.

Asked what is holding up the awarding of contracts, Island Health spokesperson Meribeth Burton said, “Awarding a long-term care contract is a complex, multi-stage process. We want to ensure we are thoughtful in our decision because this facility will serve the community for decades to come.”

Island Health could give no date when the awards would be announced.

“We understand the community needs these additional resources and is anxious to learn when the contract will be awarded. We will be able share more details with the community once a project development agreement is finalized with a proponent,” she said. “We don’t have a firm date, but we will let you know as soon as we can.”

Burton said Island Health still pins the timeline for opening the new long term care beds at 2020.

In the meantime, 21 long-term care patients were relocated back to the former St. Joe’s Hospital, which reopened and renovated its third floor to create an additional and temporary long-term care facility. St. Joe’s already operates The Views for about 120 long-term patients. The new facility in the old hospital is called Mountain View.

The move was planned in part to relieve overcapacity issue at the Comox Valley Hospital.




41% of voters cast ballots as of this morning

41% of voters cast ballots as of this morning

41% of voters cast ballots as of this morning


Update Friday morning, Dec. 7

Elections BC reported this morning that it has received 1,356,000 ballots in the electoral referendum as of 8.20 am this morning. That is a 41 percent turnout of BC registered voters.

More ballots should arrive throughout the day, until the cutoff at 4.30 pm this afternoon.

Saanich North and the Islands still lead all areas with a 52.4 percent turnout of ballot screens so far, with Parksville-Qualicum close behind at 51.4 percent. The Comox Valley isa 46.8 percent.


Update Thursday morning, Dec. 6

Saanich North and the Islands and the Parksville-Qualicum area continued to lead British Columbians in electoral reform voting. 50.3 percent of Saanich North’s register voters have had their ballots screened by Elections BC, and 49.2 percent of Parksvile-Qualicum registered voters. So far, 45.5 percent of Comox Valley registered voters have returned ballots that have passed through the initial screening.


As of 8.20 a.m. Wednesday morning, Elections BC had screened the ballots of 34.2 percent of registered voters in British Columbia. But they have received ballots from about 40 percent of voters.  

The rate of return has been high in some communities like Parksville-Qualicum, where 47.7 percent of voters have returned the ballot package. The top voting region so far is Saanich North and the Islands with a 48.8 percent return.

The Comox Valley also topped the 40 percent mark, at 43.9 percent this morning.

Other top voting communities include: Oak Bay-Gordon Head at 45.5 percent, Nelson-Creton at 42.7 percent, Powell River-Sunshine Coast at 43.5 percent and Saanich South at 42.1 percent.

The lowest number of returned ballots so far have come from the many Surrey ridings, with Surrey-Green Timbers ranking the lowest of the low at 20.2 percent.

Only ballots received by Elections BC by 4.30 pm on Friday, Dec. 7 will be counted.























Golf Creek: A case study in stormwater planning gone wrong

Golf Creek: A case study in stormwater planning gone wrong

Ken McDonald in front of Golf Creek and the first bank that collapsed and his $15,000 geotextile wall. Photo by George Le Masurier

Golf Creek: A case study in stormwater planning gone wrong

This is the second in a series of articles about how traditional stormwater management has contributed to the death of waters in our urban environment, and how we’re learning from those mistakes.

Today’s story begins the Tale of Three Creeks: Golf, Brooklyn and Morrison. Golf Creek is dead, Brooklyn Creek is threatened and Morrison Creek is thriving, with a pristine and intact headwaters that the Comox Valley Land Trust and the Morrison Stream Keepers hope to protect.



Like most Albertans, Ken and Norine McDonald moved to the Comox Valley for its moderate climate and natural beauty. From the front window of the house they would purchase on Jane Place in Comox, the Beaufort Range of mountains formed a forested backdrop for the K’omoks Estuary as it flowed into the Salish Sea.

Behind the house, the picturesque Golf Creek meandered around a bend on its way to Comox Bay. There were stairs down to a wooden bridge over the creek, where their granddaughter often splashed and played in the water.

They didn’t know then that fecal coliform in the creek could reach 230 times the maximum allowed under BC Ministry of Environment water quality standards, or that mercury levels could exceed limits by 800 times. Or that the water sometimes contained 50 times the provincial maximum of copper, which can be deadly to salmon.

And they did not know initially that the large volume of fast moving water that was undercutting their stream bank came from a confluence of pipes carrying contaminated stormwater runoff from most of downtown Comox.

It’s hard to find Golf Creek today, unless you play golf. The creek runs between the third and fourth holes of the Comox Golf Club, crosses the fourth and fifth fairways, and then disappears into a pipe under the Comox Mall and the Berwick Retirement Community. It surfaces again on private property from the south side of Comox Avenue down to Comox Harbour.

Twenty-three separate municipal stormwater pipes gush contaminated runoff into Golf Creek. Eighty-six percent of the creek is buried and no fish even attempt to swim it. It is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

The lawsuit

After the McDonald’s spent $15,000 constructing a green geotextile wall to guard against further erosion of their property, they discovered the high volume and fast flow rate of the creek after rainfalls was a result of stormwater runoff from the neighborhoods north of the golf course, the course itself and most of downtown Comox. Months later, another section of the McDonalds’ bank collapsed, which will cost another $15,000 to repair.

When the town refused to accept responsibility for the damage and compensate them, the McDonalds filed a small claims court lawsuit in June of 2016. They have spent $20,000 on a nearly three-year legal battle that has not been settled.

“The town’s strategy is simple, bleed our savings until we relent,” McDonald said.

During research for their legal case, the McDonalds discovered the town had commissioned multiple engineering reports that recommended mitigation measures for the high volume and flow rate of Golf Greek. Several of them, including a 26-year-old report by KPA Engineering, advised the town to construct a detention pond to control the release of upstream rainwater and to help settle out contaminates.

The town continues to ignore those recommendations.

Golf Creek: what happened

For 2,000 years, indigenous peoples continuously occupied the stretch of Comox Harbour in the lee of Goose Spit, living off of a wide range of natural food sources. They harvested fish from Golf Creek and Brooklyn Creek, drank their waters and harvested shellfish during the summer low tide cycles.

Colonial occupation and eventual urban development took a toll on both creeks, but Golf Creek suffered the most. While lumber baron Robert Filberg preserved a large chunk of green space for a golf course, through which the creek still flows today, residential development above the golf course buried the creek’s headwaters, and a shopping mall buried a short portion below the course.

But the creek was still alive.

In the 1960s and 1970s, long-time Comox Residents Greg Rohne and Ted Edwards remember seeing fish in the creek, and watching tiny newly-hatched salmon fry. Another long-time resident, Gordon Olsen remembers catching fish in the creek as a teenager.

The creek was still natural below the Comox Mall when the BC Legislature passed the Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR) in July of 2004. It added stricter protections for provincial waters than the previous Streamside Protection Regulations of 1997, which compelled local governments to “protect streamside protection and enhancement areas” from residential, commercial and industrial development.

That should have prevented the town from allowing more of Golf Creek to be buried in pipes, but it did not. The RAR’s accompanying regulations weren’t issued until March 31, 2005.

A few months after the RAR was enacted, Berwick was granted a development permit that included permission to build over Golf Creek. And a building permit was issued on Jan. 4, 2005, just weeks before the enforcing regulations came into effect.

Beyond erosion, health concerns

Leigh Holmes, a retired professional engineer, has lived near the mouth of Golf Creek, about 200 metres downstream from the McDonalds, since 1998. In an affidavit sworn for the McDonalds’ lawsuit, Holmes says the creek has been turned into a sewer.

When a thick white foam coated the surface of the creek in 2002, Holmes “discovered that the Fire Hall was testing foam fire retardant during training and that they had hosed the excess foam into a nearby road gutter.”

Three weeks ago, CFB Comox announced it would conduct precautionary groundwater testing after a toxic substance found in firefighting foams, known as PFAS, was detected in nearby groundwater and Scales Creek.

In his affidavit, Holmes said “the creek is virtually devoid of life and is heavily polluted. The Town of Comox has transformed what once gave sustenance to people for hundreds of years into an open sewer.”

McDonald had concerns about water quality in the creek, because his granddaughter frequently played in it. He took a water sample on Sept. 7 and had it analyzed by Maxxam Analytics in Burnaby and the results interpreted by Victoria biochemist C.A. Sigmund.

Sigmund found high concentrations of nine metal ions, including mercury and copper, and he found an extremely high fecal coliform count, possibly through cross-contamination from town sewer pipes, and most probably from pets, birds and deer, which are abundant in Comox.

The expert noted that the data represented a snapshot in time. He recommended that water quality should be monitored regularly for 12 months, and that point sources of contamination should be identified.

This has not been done, in spite of the fact that the town was repeatedly advised to do water quality testing as far back as a 1999 Koers and Associates Stormwater Drainage Study commissioned by the town.

Even now, the town has not monitored Golf Creek water quality.

Recommendations ignored

The McDonalds commissioned a study by Dr. Richard Horner, an international expert on stormwater located in Seattle, Washington, to analyze the town’s stormwater discharges into Golf Creek and their role in the erosion of McDonalds’ property. Horner assessed nine separate engineering consultant studies between 1992 and 2014 in his analysis.

Horner found the town “ignored recommendations from its consultants, and even its own Official Community Plan that could have prevented or at least arrested the erosion of Golf Creek and the delivery of urban pollutants to Comox Harbour.”

Horner pointed to three reports that specifically recommended an upstream detention pond or other water control measures. He noted three others that recommended water quality monitoring programs.

The town did take some action to divert stormwater from Golf Creek, but Horner found “the actions the Town of Comox did take have been relatively ineffective in addressing the channel erosion and water quality problems created by permitting development without stormwater runoff mitigation.”

Lessons from Golf Creek

The McDonalds say they care about the environment of their community. They have begun a project to construct a net-zero-energy addition to their home, which will create roughly the same amount of energy or more than it consumes. Their home will also manage most of its stormwater via a green roof, a 3,000 gallon rainwater harvesting system and a pervious paver driveway.  

McDonald sees himself as a warrior for change.

“There are three ways to get local governments to improve their stormwater practices … using education, a carrot, or a stick. Some municipalities respond to education, some won’t move until the province hands over bags of money, and sadly, others only change when compelled to do so by a judge.

“Our hope is that the new mayor and council will respond to education.”

The tale of Golf Creek may represent a bad case of urban planning gone wrong, but it is not an isolated case. Over the last several decades, many Comox Valley creeks and streams have disappeared from view and are now in pipes under parking lots, buildings and roadways.

And it’s not an unwarranted fear that without a change in development practices by municipal planning and engineering staffs, and given the region’s rapid rate of population growth, every creek or stream in the Comox Valley could be polluted to death. Many more could disappear entirely despite the tireless work of hundreds of volunteer stream keepers.

Golf Creek may never have fish again. But McDonald hopes to force better stormwater practices by the town that could still help protect Brooklyn Creek and Cathrew Creek, and other Comox Valley waters from dying the same death.

The Town of Comox did not respond to a request for comment on this story. But a lawyer for the Municipal Insurance Association of British Columbia did respond saying “our office has no comment until this court matter ceases.”





For further reading …

RIPARIAN AREAS REGULATION — Riparian areas link water to land. They border streams, lakes, and wetlands. The blend of streambed, water, trees, shrubs and grasses in a riparian area provides fish habitat, and directly influences it. Read more here


STREAMSIDE PROTECTION REGULATION — A fish protection act preceding the Riparian Areas Regulation. Read more here


GEOTEXTILE — Fabrics that, when used with soil, have the ability to separate, filter, reinforce, protect and drain. Read more here


FECAL COLIFORM — Microscopic organisms that live in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. They also live in the waste material, or feces, excreted from the intestinal tract. Although not necessarily agents of disease, fecal coliform bacteria may indicate the presence of disease-carrying organisms, which live in the same environment as the fecal coliform bacteria. Swimming in waters with high levels of fecal coliform bacteria increases the chance of developing illness (fever, nausea or stomach cramps) from pathogens entering the body through the mouth, nose, ears, or cuts in the skin. Diseases and illnesses that can be contracted in water with high fecal coliform counts include typhoid fever, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, dysentery and ear infections. Read more here and here


RUNOFF — Excessive rain or snowmelt that produces overland flow to creeks and ditches. Runoff is visible flow of water in rivers, creeks and lakes as the water stored in the basin drains out.


DR. RICHARD HORNER — To read some scholarly articles by this international expert on stormwater, click here


PFAS — A group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects. Read more here, and here




Cumberland’s dilemma: Save the Ilo Ilo or create arts space elsewhere?

Cumberland’s dilemma: Save the Ilo Ilo or create arts space elsewhere?

Henry Fletcher at The Convoy Club, an attempt to create a co-working space in Cumberland. Photo by George Le Masurier

Cumberland’s dilemma: Save the Ilo Ilo or create arts space elsewhere?


Does Cumberland want to save the historic Ilo Ilo Theatre or does it want to create a performing arts space in the most viable location?

That was a question debated Saturday afternoon in the renovated lobby of the former opera house by about 30 Cumberland business people, residents and performers.

It’s an urgent question because Henry Fletcher, who has spent “a stressful” year trying to save the theatre as a performance venue, has reached the end of his resources and is moving back to Toronto this week.

His parents, who bought the building in 2007, have listed the Ilo Ilo for sale at $1.25 million.

The building began life in 1914 as an opera house and transformed over the years into a movie theatre and a dance hall. It was last used as an an auction house operated by Dave and Cathy Stevens until July 2007.

None of those discussing the theatre’s fate on Saturday questioned the need for a new performing arts venue in the Comox Valley.

“There’s a hunger for performing arts space,” said Meagan Coursons, an arts promoter and executive director of the Cumberland Community Forest Society. “People are starving for it.”

It’s hard to book the busy Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay, and it’s expensive for struggling performing arts groups.

And there was no doubt among participants in Saturday’s discussion that a cultural economy could be created in Cumberland around the demand for space.

Darren Adam, owner of the Cumberland Brewing Company, said if the building could be renovated, then the “end result as an economic driver is beyond words.”

But Adam questioned whether a community project to preserve, restore and promote the Ilo Ilo as a performing arts space was a viable option.

Nick Ward, owner of The Update Company, a website design and marketing business, said it would take at least $500,000 and probably more to renovate the theatre building. And Adam doubted whether the village or individuals with the expertise to take on such a large fundraising project had the capacity to do so at this time.

“There’s no privately owned theatre in Canada that doesn’t rely on a public subsidy,” Adam said. “And the village is already heavily taxed.”

He said it took “an amazing effort” to create the Cumberland Community Forest, but to do it again would be “a long shot.”

Admitting that she has a “romantic attachment” to historic theatre, Cursons said the community needs to have a larger conversation about it really wants — to save the Ilo Ilo or to create performing arts space.

The Cumberland United Church building is also for sale at a much lower purchase price and could be renovated more inexpensively.

“We have to focus on one project, or we could lose both,” Cursons said. “What is the more achievable goal? If it’s performing arts space we want, then we need to get this conversation outside of the building (Ilo Ilo).”

The group agreed on the need for a community mandate.

There was also consensus that to attract an “angel benefactor” willing to preserve the Ilo Ilo and transform it into a quality performing arts space, the village has to have a governance structure and a business plan already in place.

And that raised the question if there are people willing to donate time and energy creating a society and a plan knowing that another buyer could tear down the building for some other commercial purpose.

A spokesperson for the Cumberland Culture and Arts Society said they already have a nonprofit society for this purpose. It staged the recent Woodstove Festival. It’s annual general meeting is scheduled for January.

Cursons expressed sadness around how many times people have gotten their hopes up about restoring the Ilo Ilo only to see it flounder again.

An exhausting experience

For Henry Fletcher, the Ilo Ilo has been “an emotionally exhausting period of exploring an idea that nobody in their right mind would undertake.”

Fletcher came to Cumberland with hopes of creating a cultural economy, using the Ilo Ilo as a hub for performing arts, town hall meetings, a dance studio, weddings and other events.

“I’ve been spraying ideas around to see what sticks,” he told Decafnation. “But nobody was ready to join on that train.”

Fletcher is a performer himself, mainly through a fictional comedic character he created called Henri Faberge, a naive buffoon and European aristocrat. Faberge is the protagonist in improv performances whose eyes help the audience understand other characters.

Henri Faberge is also a foil for Fletcher’s own self-examination.

“Sometimes the lines are blurred,” he said, referring to his obsession to animate community interest in his ideas for a common performing arts space. “It me, it’s not me. It’s hard to shut off.”

He questions whether it was his own naivete about navigating bylaws, about how to do fundraising and writing grants and about how to run a business that doomed the Ilo Ilo project.

“I struggle with not pursuing the vision I have. It’s a mental illness, I can’t not do it,” he said. “Everyone wants arts and culture, they just can’t pay for it.”

Fletcher thinks his timing might have been wrong. He sees Cumberland at a point where it has attracted a large community of creative people, yet not enough resources to support them.

But he’s glad for having tried and for the learning experience he’s had.

“Because, you know, it’s the maniacs who are either A) burned at the stake; or, B) achieve a new paradigm and change the world.”



Vancouver Island entrepreneur E.W. Bickle designed and built what is now the Sid Williams Theatre. The state-of-the-art movie house was opened on June 20, 1935, with a gala presentation of the new colour film spectacle “Babes in Toyland.” E.W. wanted to create the finest movie theatre on Vancouver Island, and his new Bickle Theatre on Cliffe Avenue featured many luxuries that event theatres in bustling Victoria did not offer. Bickle also built and owned Cumberland’s Ilo Ilo Theatre, Courtenay’s E.W. Theatre (subsequently the Palace Theatre on 5th Street), and the Comox District Free Press. The theatre’s current namesake, Sid Williams, actually worked at the E.W. in the 1940’s.

Bickle was a “hands on” theatre owner; many locals still remember attending shows and seeing him sitting in a leather wing chair in the lobby supervising the crowds as they came and went. Well into his senior years he arrived each evening in a chauffeured limousine to collect the day’s box office take. After E.W. Bickle passed away, the building operated for a time as an auction house and later became vacant for a number of years. On an early January morning in 1968, the Riverside Hotel next to the theatre at the corner of 5th Street and Cliffe Avenue in Courtenay burned down. This event was the turning point by which the citizens of the Comox Valley acquired a civic performing arts theatre.

After a great deal of fundraising, a land swap involving Crown Zellerback, a generous donation by the E.W. Bickle family, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on the part of many individuals and groups in the community, the black hole of the former Riverside Hotel got cleaned up. A fountain was built, the old Bickle was renovated and in September 1971 the new Civic Theatre and Civic Square were opened by Premier W.A.C. Bennett.

In honour of a much loved local actor and comedian, it was named the Sid Williams Civic Theatre in 1984. Sid Williams was born Frederick Sidney Williams on October 14th, 1908, in New Westminster, BC, and arrived in the Comox Valley in 1921 at the age of 12. Sid’s earliest stage appearance was in a school production in 1922. This began a lifetime of theatre involvement. From his tours with the Barkerville Players and as Century Sam; his many live appearances, both local and distant; to his television work (on The Beachcombers, PharmaSave commercials, and a documentary for CBC’s On the Road Again), they brought him many honours. Sid also served continuously as Alderman for the City of Courtenay from 1942 to 1964.

Sid ran the Civic Theatre for many years as a one man tour-de-force, and rain or shine could be seen up a ladder every week changing the messages on the theatre’s marquee. He passed away on September 26th, 1991. View the Courtenay & District Museum’s online exhibit Sid Williams: Out of the Ordinary.

The Sid Williams Civic Theatre has been serving the Comox Valley for over 25 years as a performing arts facility, and has had a professional administration since 1992. In 1998, the theatre was closed for some much needed renovations. After a few seismic tests, the City of Courtenay extended the original $1,000,000 budget to an incredible $2,500,000. The renovations extended the lobby, added a concession, a large ticket centre, family viewing seats, a 144 seat balcony, many needed washrooms, larger dressing room space, and much more.

Now a 500-seat performing arts facility, the Sid Williams Theatre will continue to host quality entertainment in the Comox Valley for many years to come.

Excerpted from a history courtesy of the Courtenay & District Museum on The Sid’s website