1922: Famous Canadian author, artist and ornithologist, collector for the National Museum of Canada and The Smithsonian, lands in Comox June 1922. Builds his first home “Baybrook” and marries his life-long love Ethel Hart.
1945: Ethel Hart dies of cancer. A grief-stricken Mack Laing becomes a recluse.
1949: Sells his Baybrook and 10 acres to Stubbs’ who sell a large portion of the property to developers.
1950: Mack Laing builds his second home “Shakesides” (named after Burroughs’ Slabsides) on the adjacent 10 acres
1972: Mack Laing, age 89 donates 10 acre MACK LAING PARK to be kept as a nature reserve and his second house “Shakesides” on the understanding that the house be used as a “natural history museum.” The deed also allows him to live in Shakesides until his death.
1982: Mack Laing dies, age 99, leaving a clear will and $55,000 “to be invested”, and stipulating again that the house is to be used as a”natural history museum.”
1982-2013: The town develops the land into a public park, rents the house, and reportedly puts the legacy money into general revenue at the request of the Council of the day. Town Councillor Alice Bullen and friends raise a cairn to honour Mack Laing in 1984.
June 5, 2013: A Comox Valley Nature week-end walk led by Betty Brooks (famous artist/ornithologist Major Alan Brooks’ daughter-in law) discovers that the residents of three small cottages and Baybrook have been evicted and the house is to be demolished. “Technical Committee to save Baybrook” is formed.
From the beginning the Baybrook question is very heavily publicized and covered in the local media.
June 20, 2013: First presentation to Council to make a case to see if the houses can be saved, by putting together a team of professional architect, engineers, heritage planners, biologists and historians, to see if Baybrook can be saved, whether it has heritage value, and whether an economic plan can be developed to re-purpose the building and use it for rental at no cost to the taxpayer.
FROM THE BEGINNING IT IS MADE EXPLICITLY CLEAR THAT THE COMMITTEE IS ONLY INTERESTED IN SAVING AND MANAGING THE FUTURE OF THE BUILDING. IT HAS NO INTEREST IN MANAGING THE PARK. THAT REMAINS THE INTEREST AND RESPONSIBILITY OF THE TOWN OF COMOX.
Stay of demolition granted.
September 2013: Second presentation to Comox Council.
Professional reports conclude:
a) That Baybrook is a heritage building because of the historical importance of Mack Laing and would qualify for a BC Heritage grant. That therefore Baybrook should not be demolished.
b) That Baybrook is structurally sound and can be salvaged at reasonable cost, if the money can be raised.
c) That revenue to pay for the building and pay the taxes could be drawn from the operation of the interpretive centre site as:
1. A youth nature education centre
2. A Conservation Tourism communications office
3. A small overnight residence to visiting environmental researchers.
d) It was also found that because Shakesides had been extensively neglected and due to drainage associated with the park, the basement flooded periodically, Shakesides would not qualify for a Heritage grant and the costs of repair would now be exorbitant. It was not practically salvageable, except at great cost.
e) Since the town was now the owner of both heritage homes, and Mack Laing had done his more important work while he resided there, the Committee therefore asked the town to look into the feasibility of transferring the trust, from Shakesides to Baybrook, all costs to be borne by the committee.
December 2013: Town of Comox accepts the recommendations of the first report, and agrees not to demolish if a feasible economic plan is presented, and if a Society is responsible for the operation and restoration of Baybrook.
January 14 2013: First meeting of an embryonic committee to develop a business plan and for the “Mack Laing Heritage” Society. Report on the “Mack Laing Account, from Tom Knight, Heritage Planner, after meeting with Don Jacquest , The Town of Comox has grown $55,000 in 1982 to $72,000 in 2014.
February 2014: First meeting of 7 founding directors + coordinator (Loys Maingon): Paul Horgen, Fred Newhouse, Angela Burns, Frieda Home, Liz Stubbs, Kate Panayotof and Gordon Olsen. (All from Comox, 4 out of 7 from Baybrook area. ) MLHS is founded on local participation and involvement.
Development of economic strategy, and search for a specialist is Conservation Tourism.
March 2014 : Launch of the Conservation Tourism Report effort
May 2014: Conservation Tourism assessment report submitted. Mack Laing Heritage Society is founded as a benevolent charitable society responsible for Baybrook. All surpluses after taxes and maintenance are to be donated to park maintenance and restoration, although the society is interested in and responsible only for the building.
June 2014: Youth education strategy developed around “ Mack Laing Tree- School”)
June 2014: Building Restoration estimate report submitted cost between $120K – $150K
July 2015: 2015 Mack Laing House Report completed. Assessment shows that if Baybrook were repurposed as a WALK-IN only Nature House, offering naturalist activities, and working as a electronic communication hub for conservation tourism and operating in conjunction with a nature pre-school, gross annual revenue would be about $120K. This would be ample to pay the bills, taxes and return surpluses to fund parks maintenance, although the Society takes no interest in the park operation.
August 2015: The society has a VERY WELL-PUBLICIZED sold-out fundraiser @ $45 a plate for 85 people, and a waiting list of 125, raises $12,500 in 4 hours.
Presentation of 2014 Mack Laing House Report assessing feasibility and costing restoration. Immediately available funding would have come to about $185K ($78 Ministry of Children and Families, $72k, Mack Laing Trust, $15k MLHS, $10K CVN, $10K BC Nature)
September 2015 : Meetings of MLHS directors with Mayor and individual councillors to clear up any questions and obtain permission for a formal local consultation.
September 2015: Liz Stubbs told by her children that she is an embarrassment and leaves the MLHS executive. Vicious personal and defamatory attacks begin in the press, led by three or four residents of the Baybrook area.
People who had previously passively dismissed the idea of saving Baybrook as “a pipe dream,” are struck by the actual reality and feasibility of the plan and begin to attack it by misrepresenting its foundations.
A petition that falsely claims that MLHS is about to take over the park, and that a convention centre is about to be built is circulated. They also circulate the idea that there will be school buses driving over a footbridge, notwithstanding the fact that this park is a walk-in only facility.
Not withstanding the fact that the reports clearly state that MLHS is only interested in the heritage house, not the park, because the fee schedule for naturalist activities is drawn from the fee schedule at Swan Lake, opponents claim that because Swan Lake received a one -time grant for park infrastructure maintenance of $500k, MLHS will need to be the recipient of a similar grant annually.
The list of scurrilous claims made goes on in the press. The MLHS is seldom given the opportunity to respond and many of the opposition comments, some of them libelous, are published anonymously.
October 2014: The opposition’s petition and all the falsehoods in it is accepted by the Mayor, who in his campaign promises to bring the parties together for discussion.
February 16-2, 2015: The MLHS participates in Heritage Week in Comox Mall, using the site of the former Bobby’s Deli patio to display historical documents and information. The display was well received and many people participated in the free raffles. Groups of school children visited and learned.
February 25, 2015: Comox Council votes to demolish both the Shakesides and Baybrook homes
March 2015: The MLHS continues to explore options for honouring Mack Laing’s legacy and contribution to history. Several offers are received and examination of them proceeds.