Chemainus celebrates Waterwheel Square

A crowd gathered to witness the opening of the new Chemainus town square at Waterwheel Park.

Tourists poured out of giant buses Thursday afternoon just as a crowd had already gathered to witness the opening of the new Chemainus town square at Waterwheel Park.

“We scheduled two buses to arrive just to show you how well this is all working. It’s all part of the plan,” North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure joked.

Shovels were put into the ground on a drizzly day in April of 2013 and Thursday, equally soggy, nothing was going to dampen the smiles of those involved in the now completed endeavour.

“This project, which I think is a fantastic improvement for Chemainus, is the result of a vision for a proper town square for Chemainus,” Lefebure said. “We’ve had the parking lot — which was certainly useful but very plain and not very inviting — for many, many years and any modern concept of a town involves a town square.”

The parking configuration has changed and bus parking is now in the alleyway instead of front and centre. New pavers create a welcoming gathering area with many benches and viewpoints to enjoy.

“When we started working on this project that was our vision, a town square with a community gathering place and trees and places for people to sit and gather; an enhanced lookout — something that would attract people not just from Chemainus but other places to come and visit the businesses and enjoy the ambience that we’ve created in Chemainus,” Lefebure noted. “Personally I’m incredibly pleased that we’ve accomplished this. There are a lot of people to thank on the way to achieving this.”

He gave particular thanks to residents’ engagement in public consultation.

“The people of Chemainus, as always, came out in very strong numbers and to say the least, were very opinionated about what would happen in the square. We heard that it was really important to save the parking aspect of the square and make it multi-use so that the Wednesday market and other events could operate well within this space but at the same time make it pedestrian friendly.”

Opening soon, the square will also feature a new information centre and expanded Chemainus Valley Museum. The expansion adds an additional 5,500 square feet to the former structure including some 1,600 square feet of museum space, 900 square feet of visitor centre and then a massive storage space and office area below street level.

“It was a huge effort. it’s come together very very well,” Lefebure said. “We’ve had a lot of positive reinforcement.”

Lefebure said a “significant” amount of funding [$200,000] came from Island Coastal Economic Trust “and that really helped put us over the top with a fantastic design so we didn’t have to compromise very much. I think we got virtually everything we wanted,” he said.

Duncan Mayor Phil Kent, the Island Coastal Economic Trust board chair, was on hand at the grand opening.

“I want to really congratulate the Municipality of North Cowichan and especially the town of Chemainus, who I think is one of the greatest models of a cohesive community,” Kent said. “It’s evident in Chemainus how much people pull together. All the people that live here, the community groups that are here, they’re clear on their identity, they’re clear who they are, they know what they do well, so I just want to say congratulations to all the people in Chemainus who contributed to this because I know they made it their own.”