Discarding St. Andrew’s Lodge because Town Planner’s too busy?

A major chunk of Qualicum Beach history may soon be destined for oblivion.

After spending $3.4 million in 2018 to acquire the St. Andrews Lodge property from the estate of Ms. Elizabeth Little, the Town conducted multiple community engagement workshops and surveys in 2019, ostensibly to guide the “planning and visioning” of the waterfront site (at Buller Road and Hwy 19A).

One important decision remains — what to do with the main St. Andrews Lodge building itself?

Much of the Lodge is original and in remarkably good shape for its age (built in 1938), according to the technical assessment report by local construction management contractor Stephen Ingleton completed in March 2020. His Feasibility Report for Adaptive Use of the Lodge validated that the building could be carefully preserved and updated in situ, with all new plumbing, wiring, heating, etc. for around $545,000.

Rear view of St. Andrews Lodge, October 24, 2020.

The Town has chosen to show no leadership in preserving this historical jewel, and indeed appears to simply want to dispose of it. That’s the essence of this shocking resolution of Town Council emerging from their in-camera meeting held on October 14:  ”Council directs staff to move forward with the relocation or demolition of the former St. Andrews Lodge building, with preference to proponents that will reuse the building or materials from the building no later [sic] February 1, 2021.”

How did we get to this point?

On July 23, 2020 the Town issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) — not a tender or request for binding offers — inviting “a broad range of proposals that would see this historic building updated and adapted for continued use. Options include updating the building onsite through an ongoing agreement with the Town. The Town will also consider proposals to relocate the building to another location to be updated and reused.”

However, proponents were given minimal time to respond to the RFP. This was the middle of summer, in the middle of a pandemic, and proposals were to be submitted by September 8, 2020 – a deadline of just six weeks. Surprisingly, the Town did receive at least one proposal — more about their ideas below. But, with absolutely no public engagement, Town Council unilaterally rejected the proposal(s) at their in-camera meeting on October 14, 2020.

Window still displaying Delft pottery and other artifacts from the Lodge’s tea room. October 24, 2020

Town Planner Luke Sales may have tipped his hat as to his personal preference — in total contradiction of the Town RFP’s stated directive that proposals be for “continued use” of the St. Andrews Lodge building. Back on June 24, 2020, Sales, in his project report to Council stated his opinion that “From a financial perspective it is hard to justify keeping the lodge building. The cost estimate [$545,000] for updating this building is very high. … In contrast, demolishing the building was estimated at approximately $40,000.”

This seemingly unilateral, arrogant and tone-deaf disregard for the value of Qualicum Beach’s history and heritage is shocking. If Elizabeth Little were here today she might say, through her tears, “Shame on you Mr. Sales.”

Let’s harken back to the Brown Property

Twenty-five years ago, another iconic Qualicum Beach property was acquired and saved in perpetuity for the enjoyment of residents and visitors to Qualicum Beach. Most of us take the Heritage Forest, with its 400 year old Douglas firs for granted. But it took a decade of planning and fund raising, commencing with the Brown Property Preservation Society incorporated in 1996, with continuous support and expertise from Town staff, plus Council leadership. And hard work by a small army of community-minded volunteers. And the generosity of the entire community. Being able to make a small donation at the time still fills us with pride every time we walk the hallowed trails through the Heritage Forest. Today, the Brown Heritage Forest is one of QB’s primary community assets. Its value, in terms of attracting new residents, visitors and businesses, is considerable.

A little bit about the Little family

There may be some readers who are not familiar with the legendary Little family, so here’s a brief synopsis. Sam and Dora Little, son Bob and daughter Elizabeth, purchased the property in 1937. Sam, a naval architect by training, not only designed the St. Andrews Lodge, but also several other buildings around town, including the beautiful (heritage) church beside our (heritage) train station.

Some of the magnificent ancient trees at St. Andrews Lodge that are also on the Town’s chopping block. October 24, 2020

After the deaths of her parents, Elizabeth took full responsibility for the operation of the busy Lodge and cottages. Her contributions to this Town cannot be overstated, including her personal commitment to preserving our heritage. On their website, the Qualicum Beach Heritage and Museum Society tells us that their Society “was started through a grassroots movement in 1982, sparked by an initiative of Elizabeth Little in an attempt to recognize the 100th anniversary of the granting of the first land title [in Qualicum Beach] to Thomas Kinkade in 1884.”, earning Elizabeth the honour of being named our first Freeman of the Town.

As then-Mayor Teunis Westbroek stated in 2018, after the Town reached an agreement with the Elizabeth Little estate to acquire the St. Andrews Lodge waterfront property, “Purchasing this land is a visionary achievement for the Town of Qualicum Beach. This waterfront property is a valued part of the Town’s history and will continue to be a community asset for future generations.”

Preserving our heritage – a community responsibility

History is too important to leave to the bureaucrats and politicians, especially if neither are willing to show leadership in the preservation of our heritage so as to share it with those who follow. Virtually all heritage preservation efforts rely on community volunteers to make it happen.

It was, therefore, not a surprise to see a proposal in response to the Town RFP from a community not-for-profit, the Qualicum Community Education and Wellness Society (QCEWS). The QCEWS proposal is a serious expression of interest in creating “a collaborative approach including the Qualicum First Nation and local community and service organizations,” working together with “a comprehensive plan that integrates aspects of the park space with the ongoing operation of the future lodge uses.”

Can this all be done by Feb 2021? Of course not. Do they have a few hundred thousand dollars laying around to invest? Not yet. QCEWS recommended that the Town could help get the ball rolling by applying for a grant from the current round of federal / provincial infrastructure grants which are specifically targeted at Community, Culture and Recreation.

Spoiler alert – the Town probably did apply to this funding program – but asked for money to build a field house instead. If the community had been asked which of these two options they preferred – save St. Andrews Lodge, or build dressing rooms and showers for recreational sports, the choice might well have been different. But the Council and Town did not provide an opportunity for community input.

Ocean view from the grounds of St. Andrews Lodge. October 24, 2020

Sorry, we can’t be bothered with this …

So says a second resolution coming out of the Council’s in-camera October 14, 2020 meeting: “Council directs staff to inform the Qualicum Beach Community Education and Wellness Society that the Town will not be redirecting time and resources away from other strategic priorities at this time, and therefore will not be further collaborating on the development of a viable business plan and capital funding plan for the former St. Andrews Lodge.”

Strange – especially as “St. Andrews Park completion” is still listed by the Town CAO as a Medium Term (up to 24 months) strategic priority in the Town’s Strategic Plan, updated just last month.

What’s the rush?

As QCEWS stated in its proposal, the Lodge “is recognized as a significant historic site… that provides a well-preserved time capsule into our past.” St. Andrews Lodge has weathered 82 winters so far. It can probably stay standing for a few years until the community, as it did with the Brown Property, rallies to raise the money and create a cherished heritage site and meeting place for the whole community. The Lodge would inevitably become a beehive of activity –  likely seeing as much or more use than either the soccer fields, or the community hall, or the civic centre.

Will Town Administration and Council pause in their haste to discard St. Andrew’s Lodge? Yes, but only if the community unequivocally tells them to stop. It should not have to be that way, but here we are.