T.W. Paterson: More history straight from today’s news

The fate of the former police craft and fisheries vessel Laurier II remains unclear.

Let’s begin with an update. In July I informed you of two venerable ships awaiting their final disposition. Since then the former hydrographic surveys ship William J. Stewart aka Canadian Princess, for almost 40 years a fishing lodge at Ucluelet, has gone to her final reward, a scrapyard. Happily, some of her best surviving artifacts were presented for permanent display to the Ucluelet Historical Society.

The fate of the former police craft and fisheries vessel Laurier II remains unclear. Her 36-metre hulk has been moved from Deep Bay Harbour to Ladysmith Harbour — much to the dismay of local residents who’d just cheered the belated removal of another environmental threat, the derelict Viki Lynne II. Hopefully, the proposed tightening of federal legislation dealing with abandoned vessel ownership, and the financial and legal responsibilities thereof, comes to pass before anything happens to the Laurier. She, like the Stewart, had an illustrious civil service career and is undeserving of a villain’s end.

Speaking of ships and their ultimate disposition, two venerable navy vessels have also come to the end of the line. In May the decommissioned Tribal-class destroyer HMCS Algonquin set out from Esquimalt, in tow of a tug, on a 7,500-nautical mile voyage to Antigonish, N.S. for scrapping. Both Algonquin and Tribal-class are honourable names in the RCN, and worthy of more than today’s passing mention.

And, in October, the navy’s last steam-powered ship HMCS Preserver was officially retired after a noble and notable 46-year career as a “floating grocery store, gas station, repair shop, hospital and helicopter hangar”. She carried ammunition, two landing craft, a dentist, doctor, specialized repair teams and a small hospital with four beds and two operating rooms. She was even equipped to act as the fleet garbage and recycling station; all of which explains the navy’s affectionate nickname for her, Atlantic Superstore.

Moving to trains, three historic steam locomotives are up for rehabilitation. The B.C. Forest Discovery Centre has begun a fundraising campaign to refurbish their two turn-of-the-last-century locomotives and their small on-site railway. Costs are expected to reach as much as $125,000 but would have been much more had not Geo Tech of Crofton generously offered to design and construct a new boiler for the Shay.

Ladysmith is also working hard to preserve their #11 Shay locomotive, Humdirgren (a railway log-loading crane) and other large artifacts. Says Heritage Preservation Committee chairperson Shirley Blackstaff: “We saw [the historic railway equipment] and other forest industry artifacts sitting outside in the heritage park neglected. Parts were being stolen. Wood was rotting. Metal was rusting. Our Town’s heritage artifacts had become a public safety hazard. We decided it was time to save our ‘heritage by the sea.’”

After organizing a restoration movement under the umbrella of the Ladysmith and District HPC in 2014, Blackstaff and members set out to “research, record and preserve local history”. Upon leasing the heritage Crown Zellerbach roundhouse from the town, they moved the locomotive and other artifacts inside where they’ll be refurbished “while there are still some of us alive with knowledge, experience and ambition to achieve this goal”.

They’re seeking volunteers to work Saturday mornings, as well as cash donations, photos, information, tools or materials such as track tools, black and yellow industrial paint, steel plate and roof shingles. Shirley sums up their project thusly: “We are seeking community involvement to achieve this major undertaking…”

More power to them! And to the good folks at Kaatza Museum in Lake Cowichan who’ve long laboured to preserve another historic Shay, the No. 12. Without these hard working and enthusiastic volunteers where would we be? As, sadly, has been shown so often, we can’t trust our heritage to government.

An outstanding exception being the Royal B.C. Museum which celebrated its 130th birthday in October. What stood out in news reports was mention of the fact that the Victoria museum houses no fewer than seven million items, all of them meticulously catalogued and preserved, that “exemplify the history, beauty and diversity of our province and our people”.

Finally, a nod to Sam Bawlf who passed away, age 72, in August after an illustrious career as a heritage-style property developer, municipal and provincial politician and author/historian. Known, too, as an amateur futurist for his predictions of coming changes to our society, he won acclaim for his keen eye for the past as shown by restoration projects such as Victoria’s Counting House Theatre in the early ‘70s.

He wasn’t as successful in Duncan in recent years when he proposed a residential/commercial complex on the site of the landmark Tzouhalem Hotel. In retrospect his design seems more in keeping with this key location than the high-rise that is currently being built there.