Comox council voted unanimously to disassemble the Mack Laing House (Shakesides) and use the site and some materials from the home to create a viewing platform in conjunction with the existing walkway.
The vote complies with recommendations in a report presented to council by the Mack Laing Nature House Advisory Committee (MLNHAC).
Council also directed staff to begin the process to modify, if necessary, the terms of Laing’s trust.
The MLNHAC, consisting of a variety of stakeholders including two Comox councillors, Comox Valley Archives & Museum Society chair Pam Moughton, Mack Laing Society vice-president Angela Burns, and Terry Chester, provided its report to council for review and consideration.
Three options considered by the committee were to restore the house and use it as a standalone nature house; retain the house as a heritage property and use it for tours and conferences; or disassemble the building and repurpose some of the building materials to create a viewing site and structure.
In his report to council, Comox Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan noted it does not appear to be possible or practical to achieve the wishes of Mack Laing in establishing a natural history museum out of the Shakesides structure.
“This comes as no surprise when one looks back to when council first accepted this trust; there were not sufficient funds available to achieve his wish at that time,” he added.
In its report to council, the advisory committee noted a majority of the committee endorsed the third option, deeming it the most practical and feasible, while still honouring the spirit and intent of the trust.
Coun. Maureen Swift admitted Comox council has been struggling to comply with Laing’s wishes, detailed in his 1981 will.
“In today’s world, these requests aren’t practical or affordable.”
Both Couns. Russ Arnott and Hugh MacKinnon reminded council Laing was a man of nature and science, and enjoyed keeping life simple.
“The best way to honour the amazing man he was is to restore this spot to its natural state – to nature … for all to enjoy is the proper route for council,” said MacKinnon.
In his will, Laing bequeathed to the Town of Comox much of the belongings of his home, Shakesides, as well as $45,000, with specific instructions: “twenty-five (25%) per cent of the cash realized to be used for capital improvements to the dwelling house, and the remaining seventy-five (75%) per cent to be invested by the Town, the income earned thereupon to be applied towards the annual operating expenses of a natural history museum.”
(Laing gifted the Town his residence, Shakesides, in a separate deal, approximately 10 years before his death.)
The entire $45,000 was supposedly set into a trust fund upon receipt. However, Town records show that between 1982 and 2000, the fund matured by only $3,000 total, despite Bank of Canada interest rates as high as 13 per cent during the period in question.
Coun. Ken Grant said while he doesn’t know why the council at the time “did what they did with the money, it doesn’t come close to rebuilding that house.
“Mack Laing was a significant person in our community, and he does need to be remembered.”