The groundbreaking ceremony for the new North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP headquarters on Friday, Aug. 7 brought back memories for Insp. Chris Bear.
“When I first started here, the detachment commander said, ‘Don’t worry about the building. We’re getting a new building,’” Bear recalled.
That was 15 years and four supervisors ago. Bear is the fifth detachment commander in that time, and the first to see tangible work being done on that new building, which is about to be constructed on former farmland at the corner of Drinkwater and Ford roads.
Originally built in the 1980s for 40 employees, the current detachment building on Canada Avenue now houses 85 employees and has not aged well. That’s not to mention that policing has changed in the last four decades, and is likely going to change even more in coming years.
“We are building a detachment for the future,” Bear pointed out. “It’s not built for today, but built for tomorrow.”
The Municipality of North Cowichan is borrowing the entire $48-million cost of the new detachment, requiring a four per cent tax increase, and the RCMP will pay back its 60 per cent share through a lease. The building is nearly identical to one being constructed in Fort St. John at a cost of $51.4 million.
Construction on the new building, which will house Forensic Identification Services, South Island Traffic Services, Indigenous Policing, and municipal and provincial officers, is expected to begin in early 2021 and completed in the fall of 2022.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring noted that the new facility is a project he has been working on since he was first elected to municipal council. He recalled his first tour of the Canada Avenue building, where desks were lined up in any open areas, and telephone cables snaked across the walkways. After the tour, he took then-detachment commander Insp. Kevin Hewco and asked if it had all been for show. Hewco assured him that no, that’s what it looks like all the time, and at least once a week someone tripped on the cables and unplugged the fax machines — vital pieces of technology in those days.
Siebring also acknowledged that there were community concerns about how much of the preparations for the new building were done behind closed doors, but explained that much of that was necessary. He recalled how the municipality once expressed interest in purchasing land at another site, but when the seller learned the government was looking to buy, the price went up significantly. One thing he appreciated about the Van Jaarsfeld family, who sold the site to North Cowichan, was that there was no haggling or escalation, which meant no borrowing or loans were required to buy the land.
“I’m really, really excited for the members,” Siebring said. “I know the conditions they were working in. Not only was it crowded, but there were health issues. I’m really looking forward to October 2022.”
Taking part in the groundbreaking ceremony along with Bear and Siebring were Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor, Cowichan Valley Regional District Vice Chair Ian Morrison, Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples, and Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour.
The word for the RCMP in Hul’qumi’num is “Qiquq’ul’s,” which Seymour said in his brief address means “law keepers” or “law givers.”
“It’s obvious we’re all growing: the city, North Cowichan, the region, Cowichan Tribes,” Seymour said. “We see the need for expansion of the RCMP. I’m glad to be here and take part in the celebration of moving forward on this expansion.”