Story by Troy Landreville, MyComoxValleyNow.com

COMOX, B.C. – Dueling sides on the future of Mack Laing Nature Park’s ‘Shakesides’ building made their case to Comox Council on Wednesday afternoon.

Two delegations spoke before council members during the Committee of the Whole meeting.

The Friends of Mack Laing Nature Park (FLMNP) are calling for the razing of Mack Laing’s former residence, ‘Shakesides’ arguing that it diminishes the quality of the natural space.

And the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) is pushing for the preservation of ‘Shakesides’ and converting it into a nature house.

Laing was a world-renowned naturalist who gave his house and eight acres of property in trust to Comox in 1973. He died in 1982, at 99.

According to the MLHS, Laing left all of his money to Comox in a charitable purpose trust, “with the intention that Comox would make his house into a ‘natural history museum.’”

Council will make its decision regarding the modification of the Trust on Feb. 6, allowing council to have more time to fully consider all of the previous background information related to the application to modify the trust, as well as the “Realistic Business Plan For Shakesides Nature House.”

The Town has an active application before the court, seeking approval to modify the Mack Laing Trust from the current requirements to convert Laing’s former residence, ‘Shakesides’ to a nature house and instead, remove ‘Shakesides’ and construct a viewing platform with the funds that are currently held in the Mack Laing Trust Fund.

FMLNP member Blythe Riemer told council members on Wednesday that “our vision, is to be champions of the park and help preserve it in its natural state, consistent with Mack Laing’s original gift of 1973, so that this jewel of a park can continue to be enjoyed by the public.”

She urged council to accept the recommendations of the 2016 Mack Laing Advisory Committee and continue petitioning the courts to alter the terms of the Mack Laing Trust, to lighten the human footprint in the park.

“We must honour Mack Laing’s wishes, in a way that respects current realities,” Riemer said. “This is not the same Comox that existed in 1973.”

She noted that the roughly nine-acre park is used daily by people who seek solitude or a free space to walk their dogs, in one of the only waterfront parks left in Comox.

“Renovation or restoration of Shakesides could have far-reaching and unintended consequences,” Riemer stressed.

“Imagine (if) we are to upgrade roadways with signage and lighting… this would completely change the feel of this quiet, natural space.”

Part of the group’s presentation stated that, due to the current condition of the house, flooding in the basement would a risk.

Riemer added that restoring Shakeside would be an expensive endeavour for taxpayers.

“The money left in Mack Laing’s Trust has never been enough to upgrade the building to be fit for any public assembly, which is why councils have been deliberating the dilemma for decades. There are costs, environmental and financial.”

On the opposite side of the ledger, MLHS member Gordon Olsen asked council to suspend their court action “to bury the Mack Laing Trust” and to also apply to the Heritage Registry of B.C., for heritage designation on Shakesides.

Olsen said as Mack Laing’s trustees, the Town is “obligated to keep the house.”

“His generosity was a golden opportunity which today, has even more potential than it did then,” he added.

Later, Olsen said Laing considered Shakesides as a venue for future generations to connect with both the natural world of the past… and the natural world of the present.

He said saving Shakesides is “further demonstrated” in the society’s petition of about 900 signatures.

“The building will be re-wired, the floors brought back to spendor, and the glass replaced in the windows,” Olsen said. “The bathroom will be completely replaced. Because the Trust prohibits vehicular traffic, Shakesides will be a walk-in facility.”