Sense of place and history important for everyone

Note: This is a public letter sent to the Town of Comox and its elected Council and published here with permission.

To Mayor Ives and the Comox Town Councillors,

As an Emily Carr Fine Art student, I have undertaken a project that focuses on the importance of place as a part of how we understand and value or devalue ourselves, our community and the more than human world that we are a part of.

I chose the Mack Laing Parkway as the place on which I would base my work because it is a part of the place in which I live. This parkland has rich historical, social and environmental components on which to draw as I develop a body of work. I have spent the past ten months immersed in multi media art making in response to my own evolving sense of place as I spend time in this park area. I have had wonderful conversations with people of all ages who come to experience this place and be enriched by it. Besides extensive reading to learn about the geological, environmental and historical aspects of this place, my research includes insightful conversations with local First Nation Elders, K’omoks Nation Chief and Council, and artist Andy Everson. I have also read the journal of Mack Laing and have studied the sociological, psychological and philosophical dynamics that contribute to a person’s sense of place. My work has made me acutely aware that perception of place governs how we will care for each other and the world in which we live.

As an artist, I understand the importance of inviting the viewer to participate in an experience of the message. It is not enough to just read about something.

When given the opportunity to enter into a visual and participatory dialogue with a subject, we come to know it in a new and deeper way.

Without experiencing a place and learning about its history we cannot truly understand who we are in relationship to it. A holistic sense of our identity we enables us to participate in optimum relationships with each other and the world we live in.This is a principle that Hamilton Mack Laing understood because he lived it! This motivated him to legally entrust his land and homes to the Town of Comox prior to his death. Mack was providing this particular place as the space for future generations to develop a strong and vibrant sense of themselves within their community and the more than human world.

During the initial stages of my work, I became acquainted with the Mack Laing Heritage Society. The Society has encouraged me in my work and I have become a member. Their wholehearted work to preserve the contributions that Hamilton Mack Laing made to the Comox Valley, British Columbia and Canada through his lifestyle and work as a naturalist, artist, and writer is to be commended. Their sense of the value of preserving the historical and environmental legacy of the Parkway’s through its natural environment, includes the homes in which Mack Laing lived. This demonstrates their understanding of the experiential learning process that aids individuals to integrate a multifaceted sense of the place. The Society has been earnest in making this clear to the current members of the Comox Town Council. For this reason, I was astounded when I witnessed the unanimous decision by the Council to demolish both of Mack’s homes. I am aware that the Mack Laing Heritage Society continues to advocate for a reversal in the current Council’s decision and that Heritage BC has recently written to the Town about its fiduciary responsibility to preserve these buildings for their heritage value.

On Canada Day I returned to the Baybrook site to continue work on my photographic diary of Mack’s houses and the surrounding land. I discovered the Baybrook house with three doors and a window wide open. I closed the window and locked the doors. I spoke with the Parks Supervisor, Al Fraser, about this today and have also contacted the board of the Mack Laing Heritage Society.

Why are these buildings being left in such a vulnerable state? Why are they not seen for the heritage value they are embedded with? Why is the tremendous capacity for offering future generations a dynamic and timeless experience of place not being potentiated as our visionary forefather wanted?

Creating a climate in which a community can function at its optimum is a responsibility we all share, but as our locally elected governance body it is your responsibility to ensure that action is taken to support strong and vibrant sense of the place in which we live. I do not understand the Comox Town Councils’ decisions, past and present, to disregard the trust that Mack Laing placed in them. I know the details of the rationale for the current decision but upon scrutiny, it does not bear up.

It is my hope that the this Town Council will reconsider its decision to demolish the Mack Laing homes and that it will implement a creative and dynamic plan that sees these buildings developed into heritage spaces that foster a deep respect for the natural world, our history and a strong sense of place for the current and future generations.

I look forward to a considered reply to this letter from the mayor and individual councillors.

In the spirit of place,

Denise Lawson
Comox BC

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