More than 40 years after his death, the Town of Comox received court approval to vary one of the trusts left by naturalist Mack Laing to construct a viewing platform on the site of his Shakesides home within the town.
Following a lengthy process, the town received permission to construct the platform from Supreme Court Justice J.A. Power April 11 in B.C. Supreme Court in Courtenay. In 2017, the town filed a petition to vary Laing’s trust so that funds given by him in his will could be spent differently than on the terms described in the will.
Part of naturalist Laing’s will was money held by the Town of Comox that was probated on March 2, 1982. Shakesides, Laing’s final residence, was gifted to the town by Laing approximately 10 years before his death.
He left the town $45,000 for upgrades and “annual operating costs” of a museum when he died in 1982.
The Town asked for an amendment to the trust to permit the funds to be used to build a nature park platform containing natural history education panels at the site of Shakesides.
Intervenors – the Mack Laing Heritage Society (MLHS) – were granted that status in October 2018 and argued the municipality breached its obligations as trustee and allowed waste and neglect of a culturally valuable and irreplaceable trust object – Shakesides.
The MLHS is a not-for-profit organization whose mandate is to seek ways to fulfill the intentions of Mack Laing as expressed in his will.
In her ruling, Power wrote the MLHS argued Comox manufactured the very crisis it now claims as a justification to vary the trust. She noted, however, that to accede to the intervenor’s arguments would only lead to even greater delay and litigation.
“I am satisfied that the original trust monies in 1982 were never sufficient to turn Shakesides into a museum … I have concluded that the nature park platform proposal is the best use of the trust fund monies and reflects the general intention set out in Mack Laing’s will, relating to public education.”
In the ruling, Power said the estimation for the construction of the platform is $326,281. As of Dec. 31, 2021, the trust funds amounted to $271,945.01; the municipality proposes paying for the shortfall of construction costs.
“The money Mack Laing gave to the Town has always been insufficient to establish and maintain a natural history museum on the park lands,” she wrote. “The Town has admirably fulfilled the wishes of Mack Laing related to the park trust.”
She added the viewing platform proposal enhances the park and allows Laing’s role as “a pioneering naturalist to be respected and honoured,” as the public will be able to enjoy the same views and vistas that Laing enjoyed when he lived at Shakesides.
Powers also ordered as part of the information panels, the history of Shakesides, including photos and some of Laing’s drawings, should comprise at least three of the panels and that construction – when it does start – should be completed within 18 months.
“As we move forward with implementation, (Comox) council has expressed and acknowledged the desire to find a way to heal the community divide by building on the natural history – a history that is respectful of the commitments council made to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the local First Nations,” said Comox Mayor Nicole Minions in a release.
It is expected that construction will begin in 2024.
The Record has reached out to the MLHS for comment but did not receive a reply by deadline.
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