Column T.W. Paterson: David Butterfield envisioned a reborn Bamberton

Bamberton a classic example of this imaginative developer’s motto: Go big or go home.

David Cornell Butterfield was one of the first to re-envision Bamberton’s future. (submitted)

David Cornell Butterfield was one of the first to re-envision Bamberton’s future. (submitted)

Bamberton was a classic example of this imaginative developer who seems to have been driven by the motto, Go big or go home.

Everyone who resided in the Cowichan Valley, particularly in the south end, in the early 1990s would recognize the name David Butterfield.

Back then he was almost as much a lightning rod to public controversy as are the current owners of Shawnigan’s contaminated soil dump. In Butterfield’s case it was his proposed redevelopment of the defunct Bamberton cement works property on the Malahat that drew critics’ fire. It was a time when the acronym NIMBY came into its own, locally, as the rebuttal of those who saw Butterfield’s proposed townsite as a boon to the Valley’s economy.

Both local newspapers carried front-page stories and were filled with letters to the editor (many if not most of them in opposition), and public meetings, such as the one I attended at Brentwood College, were well attended and vociferous.

Butterfield wanted to create a new community of 12,000 residents. Even though this would have taken years, even decades to fully achieve, its intended scope scared many who feared its effects on the local water supply and an already challenged Malahat highway.

Likely it was this deep-rooted and widely-touted antagonism that moved investors to withdraw from the project.

Bamberton was a classic example of the Butterfield imagination which seems to have been driven by the motto, Go big or go home. Although his South Island Development Co. began modestly enough in the late 1970s by building social housing in Victoria, then a shopping centre and the BCGEU building. Much more ambitious was the Coast Victoria Harbourside hotel and condominium complex which cost no less than $45 million.

Bamberton would have been even bigger; despite its ultimately proving to be a costly defeat, an undaunted Butterfield soon took up another big challenge. This time it was the transformation of a derelict oil tank farm at Victoria’s Shoal Point into award-winning luxury condominiums. This time he succeeded admirably, which didn’t surprise those who knew him best. “He had the foresight,” recalled friend and architect Paul Merrick in the Times-Colonist, “to see that location, an oil tank farm, as having potential that was quite unrealized…

“When creating a building, he didn’t just do a building. It had dimensions of substance and content that was ahead of its time. He was dealing with environmental sustainability before it was topical, because he cared about it.”

Butterfield demonstrated this with another project at Loreto Bay in Mexico, which was proclaimed to be the “largest resort community in North America committed to the principles of sustainable development”.

Several other friends spoke passionately of Butterfield’s energetic drive, his vision, his ability to imagine things, to see the possibilities where other people couldn’t, and his ability to learn from his setbacks and to carry on.

Ironically, the former Bamberton Cement property remains undeveloped but in controversy. After Three Point Properties spent $35 million and five years in an environmental clean-up of the former industrial site, the CVRD declined to approve development because there was no need for additional residential zoned property in the Mill Bay area. The company switched course to creating a light industrial property then sold out to the Malahat First Nation.

Two years ago, the MFN entered into a mutual benefits agreement with Steelhead LNG Corp. to establish a floating liquefied natural gas facility. According to Wikipedia, it’s intended to achieve “significant economic benefits, including 30 years of revenue generation for local, provincial and federal governments and the creation of 200 permanent jobs at the facility”.

The proponents also predict that the project will “create hundreds of direct and indirect jobs on Vancouver Island in a wide variety of sectors including design, construction and operations. They also note that training and employment opportunities will be available for both the Malahat First Nations and neighbouring First Nations communities.”

This latest proposal, like those before it, has sparked outspoken opposition, much of it from neighbouring First Nations, and a sprinkling of roadside signs proclaiming, NO LNG FOR SAANICH INLET. Since then, most of the proposals for LNG processing plants throughout the province have been suspended or cancelled outright because of unfavourable international market conditions.

We’ll have to wait and see how Bamberton III plays out…

New York-born David Cornell Butterfield, who started professional life as a French teacher and came to Canada to avoid military service in Vietnam, died in June after a brief battle with kidney cancer. He was 69.