Time appears to be running out for efforts to save the increasingly dilapidated Elkington heritage house on Maple Bay Road.
The locally based Oak Park Heritage Preservation Society has more than $350,000 in a grant it received from the Canadian Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program ready to spend on this well-known historic building, but the society said it is being stymied by the current owner, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, as well as the Municipality of North Cowichan.
Society director Paul Gowland said the NCC will not permit any repairs to be done on the structure until ownership of the house and its three-acre lot is transferred to a new owner, but will only agree to transfer ownership to the province, a municipality, or a large and well established non-profit society.
He said the society has worked with North Cowichan to see if the municipality is willing to take over the property, for no charge, so the society could then use the funds it holds to carry out urgent repairs.
“Full restoration of the house would require additional expenditures, which the municipality states could be in the range of approximately $500,000, but this could be spread out over many years,” Gowland said.
“North Cowichan has told us they would be interested in taking over ownership of Elkington house, but only if all the money needed for repairs was in hand. Sadly, the municipality has turned down the opportunity to own this amazing site in Maple Bay.”
Gowland said the society will have to decide in the next month or so on returning the grant money provided for the restoration of Elkington house if the situation doesn’t change anytime soon, so he’s encouraging people to contact North Cowichan’s mayor and council and urge them to assume ownership of the house and acreage.
Shawn Cator, North Cowichan’s director of operations, said staff have had several discussions with the Oak Park Heritage Preservation Society regarding the renovation and operation of the Elkington house.
He said North Cowichan has not allocated funding in its financial plan for the necessary upgrades to the Elkington house or the ongoing maintenance of the facility.
“We have supported the society with this initiative by requesting the provincial government fund the project shortfall,” Cator said.
The two-storey historic Elkington house was built in 1894 and is North Cowichan’s only designated heritage house.
The property has been owned since 2005 by the NCC, which has a mandate to steward and preserve land, but not buildings, and the consequence of this is that the Elkington house has steadily deteriorated over the years and is now in critical need of work.
Lesley Marian Neilson, a spokeswoman for the NCC, said the conservancy has been collaboratively exploring ideas with the Oak Park Heritage Preservation Society and other agencies for many years to find a good outcome for the Elkington house.
“Preserving heritage houses takes significant resources and, although we have been working with our partners to identify feasible options, a long-term, sufficiently resourced option for transferring ownership of the house has not yet been identified,” she said.
In 1998, sparked by the initiative of Barb Stone who feared that the much larger historic property would be developed, the NCC, the Cowichan Land Trust Society and the Cowichan Valley Naturalists’ Society raised approximately $800,000 with which to purchase the rest of the Elkington estate.
The groups wanted to preserve it mainly for the endangered Garry oak trees that grow on much of the 50-plus acres that remained of what was at one time a 300-acre dairy farm.