Hamilton Mack Laing at home in Shakesides during his last years  /  Archive photo

BC heritage professionals lobby cabinet ministers to conserve Shakesides

Jul 23, 2019 | Mack Laing

By George Le Masurier

The president of the BC Association of Heritage Professionals has lobbied the provincial Attorney-General and the minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to oppose the Town of Comox’s application to vary the charitable purpose trust of Hamilton Mack Laing.

Elana Zysblt, a Vancouver-based heritage consultant, says in letters sent Tuesday to AG David Eby and FLNROD Minister Doug Donaldson that the conservation of Laing’s home, known as Shakesides, “represents heritage values that extend much further than the boundaries of the Town of Comox.”

Heritage issues in British Columbia fall under the FLNROD portfolio and are managed by Roger Tinney.

Writing on behalf of the province’s heritage professionals, Zysblat expresses concern that municipalities such as Comox might be allowed to use a section (184) of the Community Charter to ignore and alter substantial gifts of money and property donated to the public in good faith.

FURTHER READING: Attorney general takes West Vancouver to court for breach of trust

The Community Charter sets out municipalities’ core areas of authority, such as municipal services, public health regulation and entering into agreements. Under section 184 if, in the opinion of a council, the terms or trusts imposed by a donor or will-maker are no longer in the best interests of the municipality, the council may apply to the Supreme Court to vary the terms of the trust.

This is the crux of the town’s application to vary the Laing trust and demolish Shakesides.

Gordon Olsen, a member of the Mack Laing Heritage Society, says the significance of Zysblat’s letters is a warning to the minister about the serious precedent the Shakesides case could set.

“If municipalities are allowed to ignore terms of agreements that` they have freely entered into that will have a chilling effect on future donators across the province,” Olsen told Decafnation.

But that isn’t the only point Zysblat makes in her letters. The Association of Heritage Professionals also believe Shakesides has significant heritage values and remains, despite the town’s neglect, in good condition for rehabilitation.

“In 2017, a Statement of Significance was completed to describe the heritage values of the place,” Zysblat wrote. “A condition assessment of the historic structure was also conducted in the same year by an independent heritage professional and structural engineer. The assessment concluded that the building is in good condition to be rehabilitated for adaptive re-use as envisioned by Hamilton Mack Laing.”

The Town of Comox has not requested any professional assessment of the building. But Comox Parks Manager Al Fraser told a public meeting in April that only a “cursory report” has been done, which he admitted was “not comprehensive.” Fraser called it a “soft pass.”

“Let’s say there’s still considerable work to be done in that regard,” Fraser told the public meeting.

As of July, the town still has not done that work and has yet to acknowledge the professional assessment by a structural engineer completed in 2017, according to Zysblat.

She also informs the two provincial government cabinet ministers that the town seems uninterested in other perspectives on Shakesides.

“Gord Macdonald, Heritage BC chair, shares our belief that the state heritage value of Shakesides demands that (Laing’s) former home be conserved for future generations,” Zysblat wrote. “And that Heritage BC has committed to providing their assistance, at no charge, to the Town of Comox, for the duration of the process to repurpose Shakesides, and guarantees the town a provincial grant through the Heritage Legacy Fund Heritage Conservation Program.

“To this date, the Town of Comox has ignored this offer by Heritage BC.”

For more stories about Mack Laing, the Town of Comox and the legal proceedings, go here



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