BC Forest Discovery Centre takes direct hit in December windstorm

With all that equipment displayed among the trees, there was significant damage during the windstorm. (Submitted)
Volunteer crews work on the railway tracks after clearing several big trees that fell near the lower field at the Centre. The passenger area was also damaged. (Submitted)
One building that housed several veteran vehicles was flattened during the big windstorm. (Submitted)
One piece of equipment lies on its side while an old truck still stands bravely in the rain at the Forest Discovery Centre. (Submitted)
Half-hidden by fallen branches, some of the BC Forest Discovery Centre’s equipment is still standing after the storm. (Submitted)
Down came the trees and over went some of the equipment at the Centre. (Submitted)
Crunch! This Dodge pickup truck takes a direct hit from a falling tree during the windstorm Dec. 20. (Submitted)

The windstorm of Dec. 20 wreaked havoc at Cowichan’s BC Forest Discovery Centre.

Downed trees, crushed vehicles, wrecked displays, cancelled Christmas Express days: it all happened, but the energetic staff and volunteers at the Centre have been hard at it, trying to repair the damage caused by Mother Nature in her worst mood.

In a statement to the public, released Jan. 1, Centre management said, “As we reflect on the past few weeks of 2018, we wish to extend our sincere thanks for your patience and understanding during the recent wind storm that forced the Christmas Express to close for three nights. Our dedicated staff and volunteers had their hands full trying to restore the Centre to be safe for those attending, and then to wait for our area to be restored with power. Thank you to the hardworking BC Hydro crews who without their unbelievable dedication right up until 3:45 p.m. on the final night of the Christmas Express, we could not have opened for that final evening.

“The management, staff and dedicated volunteers were disappointed for the many families that could not attend those three nights and had made the Christmas Express their annual tradition. Our team works hard from Halloween until the Christmas Express preparing for this magical event. The Centre will work diligently in 2019 to make up for our three days of lost revenue at our annual fundraising event, but we can’t make up for the lost smiles of the children’s faces.

“We will rebuild in 2019, and look forward to more exciting family events, a new exhibit opening with ‘Forests Forever’, and welcoming you back!”

This optimistic note was echoed by Centre manager Chris Gale on Jan. 2.

“Oh boy, oh boy,” he said. “That was some storm. And the timing couldn’t have been worse, missing those three days. That was going to be a record Christmas Express. We had packed trains every night. We were lucky that BC Hydro worked so hard for us and we were able to open on the final night.

“I wouldn’t call it devastation but there was a lot of damage. We had volunteers out right away.”

Some of the most visible damage is down by the lower field, where the passenger station was hit, causing damage, and trees landed on several displays.

“One of the main display buildings was blown down. There were two or three big trees on the track. The volunteers were down their with chainsaws working on that right away. Then, we had to wait for Hydro. We were really lucky that they were there working so hard for us.”

Because the storm knocked out power, the highly popular Christmas Express train, that has become a tradition for many Island families, was out of commission.

Refunds are being offered for those whose evenings were cancelled.

In a notice on Facebook, the Centre said they were open Wednesday and Thursday, and will also be open today (Friday) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for people to come in and get refunds, “or if you would prefer, we would be happy to apply your refund towards an annual membership.

“Memberships are available as an individual or a family with admission for up to 10 visits annually to Oct. 31, 2019, plus many additional benefits in other Centre areas.”

See the FDC’s website for details.

For refund or membership purchase, people should call 250-715-1113 extension 30.

Since the storm, people have been expressing concern for the Centre on Facebook, too, offering donations of money and time to help with the clean-up and repair.

“They have just been amazing,” Gale said. “A lot of people are donating back their ticket money. We’re grateful but we will refund their ticket money for those nights to anyone who gets in touch with us about it.”

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