On August 7, 2018, the Town of Comox issued a news release about an online information hub ( http://comox.ca/modx/assets/uploads/News_Release_1.pdf ) for residents “to learn more about the Mack Laing property and its history”, though the information about the property and its history on the webpage is minimal.
The suggestion that “updates on the plans for Mack Laing Nature Park” are coming this fall in response to questions from the public is also difficult to interpret. The public has been raising questions for a long time about the plans for the park, with little response from the Mayor and Council. The timing of the new information hub seems to indicate that it will function mostly to justify the Town’s controversial decision to have the terms of the Mack Laing Trust altered by the B.C. Supreme Court and to report on the outcome of the case.
The variance being sought by the Town is better described as an overturning of the Trust. A favourable decision will result in the destruction of Shakesides, the home Mack Laing built by hand in 1949. In leaving his property to the Town of Comox, Laing expressly stated that his home, as well as his land, were to be made available to the public for their enjoyment and education.
Yet Shakesides was not made available to the public, but was rented out to a series of tenants from 1982 to 2014 — with the proceeds going into general revenue! Shakesides was then left vacant and unsecured, encouraging vandalism. It was boarded up in 2016 and, finally, a security fence was erected around it at the beginning of 2018. The Town’s neglect of Shakesides, like its neglect of Baybrook (Laing’s first home, which was demolished in 2015), runs counter to the terms of the Trust which call for a “natural history museum”, or nature house in modern parlance – not a viewing platform.
The financial issue that has been used to justify the altering of the Trust is that the money left to the Town by Laing was not originally sufficient to do the necessary restoration or renovation of Shakesides. However, that $50,000 dollars would have bought a house in 1982, and even now, it has to be considered with all the interest it has earned and the income generated by the rental of Shakesides.
The Mack Laing Heritage Society restoration estimates have demonstrated that there are savings to be made by taking advantage of donated labour and materials. In any case, the financial burden to the Town of restoring Shakesides is much less than the Town has has already spent on legal action and other costs to avoid restoring it! And this is without even considering the design, labour, and materials for the proposed viewing platform.
The Mack Lang Heritage Society has applied for standing in the Supreme Court case and is ready to add 400 pages of documents and affidavits to the court record. A decision favourable to the Town is by no means assured when the court convenes in early October. The MLHS believes that this may be a good time for the Town to change course and negotiate a settlement that really “honours the conservation and educational goals laid out by Mack Laing”.
Further information about Mack Laing, his importance, and the work done by the Mack Laing Heritage Society (work recognized with a BC Heritage Award in 2016) can be found by exploring this site.