What would Mack Laing think?

The Mack Laing saga continues, and it’s not getting any prettier.

The Mack Laing saga continues, and it’s not getting any prettier.

On one side you have a well-meaning, albeit not always well represented, group – the Mack Laing Heritage Society – striving to carry out the wishes contained in Mack Laing’s will.

On the other side, there’s the Town of Comox, which was bequeathed a substantial sum of money to go towards achieving Mr. Laing’s dying wishes and has held onto the money, all the while maintaining the land and parks within, although not exactly in the manner desired.

In the middle you have one of B.C.’s most noted environmentalists of his time, whose name is being unintentionally but severely sullied, ironically, by those most concerned with his wishes.

In his will drawn up in 1981, Hamilton Mack 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 also gifted the Town his residence, Shakesides, in a separate deal, approximately 10 years before his death.)

The money, all $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.

Now the society is claiming foul, demanding to know where the money went, and why it was not used in the fashion it was meant to be used in.

The argument is that when the town accepted the $45,000, it also accepted the terms of that money.

What people are getting stuck on (other than the missing funds), are bricks and mortor.

A “natural history museum” can mean a lot of things, and does not necessarily have to be the same structure as where Mack Laing lived. After all, it’s a natural history museum, not a Mack Laing Museum.

In fact, from what I have learned about Mack Laing, I am fairly certain his intent was not to have his home spit and polished and on display for people to see where he slept, where he painted, and where he drank his tea.

I am fairly certain he was thinking about nature, and its history, when he suggested a natural history museum. And nature takes many forms.

The Town claims there was never enough money left to update Shakesides into any kind of viable museum.

The Society says $11,250 (25 per cent of $45,000) was more than enough for renovations, in 1982.

It’s hard to argue against that. According to old ads, you could have bought an entire house and lot in Comox in 1982, for less than $50,000.

The regrettable part of all this is that, with all the contentiousness surrounding his will, his trust fund and the future of his former property, there are as many people who cringe when they hear the name Mack Laing as there are who applaud. And that is sad, because Mack Laing was a great man. If there is one thing both sides can agree upon, it is that.

But rather than look towards a resolution that will provide a positive lasting legacy to reflect the man and his beliefs, we spend far too much time covering back-and-forth battles.

It’s to the point now that there is talk of a crowdfunding platform to raise money for a “Mack Laing Legal Defence.”

When I was told of this plan, I suggested instead of a crowdfunding effort to have their day in court, have a crowdfunding page to raise whatever financial assistance is needed, in addition to the fund money (which now sits at roughly $76,000), to realize Mack Laing’s dream of a natural history museum. The two parties could work hand-in-hand on such a crowdfunding effort, as opposed to against each other.

No more need for legal counsel. No more need for full-page attack ads.

Such a move would produce resolution.

Such an act would allow Hamilton Mack Laing to finally rest in peace.

I’m not holding my breath.

Terry Farrell is the editor of the Comox Valley Record

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