The story of Shakesides
Hamilton Mack Laing, a respected Canadian naturalist and writer, moved to Comox in 1922. When he died in 1982, he left property and cash to the Town of Comox. His home, Shakesides, built in 1949, was in fine condition, fully-furnished and filled with the artifacts of his long and productive life.
The focus of MLHS interest is upholding the terms of Mack Laing’s Will and Trust to create a natural history museum as he wished. We have produced plans, gathered professional volunteers, gained community support and held fundraisers. We are willing to collaborate to use Shakesides for the purpose it was intended.
Laing left $45,000 to the Town, requesting that it be put into a trust account. 25% of the money was to be used to create a modest “natural history museum” in Shakesides. Interest on the remaining 75% was to be applied to the annual operating expenses of the museum.
The Town of Comox accepted the funds and the terms of the trust agreement, but:
1) Did not put the funds into an interest-bearing account as requested. The total trust fund was worth just $48,000 in 2000.With interest, the Mack Laing Trust Fund should now be worth at least $270,000 – much, much more if rent is included. The Town of Comox says the fund is worth $77,000.
2) Did not create a natural history museum in Shakesides, as requested, and did minimal maintenance on the property for 34 years. Trust funds were spent on projects that did not qualify.
3) In 1982, the Town of Comox accepted the Trust funds to create a public natural history museum in Shakesides, but the house was rented to a series of tenants for 31 years, until 2013. Tjhe building was never open to the public, as the deed of transfer (1973) and Mack Laing’s Will demanded.
4) Did not respect the wishes of a generous man, one of Canada’s first environmentalists. The property he gave the Town, Mack Laing Park, is now valued at $1.6 million.
5) In 1982, Shakesides contained a lifetime of work, photos, art and written material by a remarkable man. Mack Laing was a well-known Canadian naturalist. It could have easily been turned into a museum.
6) The Mack Laing property was “to be left, to the greatest extent possible, in its natural state” – the pristine state it was when Laing deeded the park and house to the Town of Comox in 1973. There have been many modifications to the Park since his death in 1982.
7) The “Mack Laing Nature House Advisory Committee”, appointed by Comox Council, did not examine the option of restoring Shakesides and creating a public nature house. The Committee also did not adequately address the Terms of Reference it was given by Council.
8) Comox Council voted to “revise” the Mack Laing Trust, which prevented the demolition of Shakesides in 2015. This action dishonours Mack Laing’s Will and generous donation to the Town.
The MLHS is not pursuing legal action against the Town of Comox. We are a non-profit whose mandate is to educate about, and uphold the legacy of, Hamilton Mack Laing.
Many local communities celebrate their heritage and historic figures. Creating a natural history museum in Shakesides should be a community project. The Mack Laing Heritage Society of the Comox Valley (MLHS) and its members are eager to participate in such a project.
Shakesides should be restored as a cost-effective community project, to become a venu to educate about nature and Mack Laing. The MLHS is ready and willing to assist.
The MLHS won a 2016 Heritage BC Award for Education and Awareness. Join us in recognizing Mack Laing’s legacy and contribution to Canada.
Mack Laing Nature Park is overrun with invasive vegetation. The MLHS members have laboured over 150 hours to date, removing non-native growth and planting native species.
The MLHS remains committed to restoring Mack Laing Nature Park and welcomes community involvement. We believe a nature house would enhance the experience for everyone. We are committed to our mandate to recognize and celebrate Mack Laing’s contribution to Canada as one of our first environmentalists.
Find out more about Mack Laing and Shakesides, and browse our library of important documents on this site.