History on display in Cobble Hill park

Cobble Hill’s history is now front and centre in a local park.

A new commemorative wall was opened at Cobble Hill Commons Sunday, June 7 as members of a the community joined the Cobble Hill Historical Society in a celebration.

Lesley Bonner was on hand to cut the ribbon and sweep aside a fabric covering, displaying four plaques commemorating the work of Ken McKinnon and Virginia May Bonner, showing Cobble Hill School in about 1930, and the Island Gateway Home Station.

These will be the first of a series that will bring the area’s history to life, according to Brenda Krug, Cobble Hill Historical Society president.

She gave some of the background of the seven-years of work it took to finally complete the wall, which is a solid timber structure covered by a wide roof.

"Virginia Bonner began researching the idea of a commemorative wall for Cobble Hill many years ago. By 2005, she’d brought then-regional director Gerry Giles in on the project. The following year they got several more of us in and the project gathered steam," Brenda Krug said.

An increased interest in the area’s history led to the founding of the Cobble Hill Historical Society in 2007.

"The wall was to be our first project. It only took seven years," Krug said, to chuckles from the crowd.

Originally the wall was to be part of Memorial Park but when the cenotaph revitalization was undertaken, "it became obvious that the memorial to the fallen should be the only structure in that park. Our wall required a new home. We went into a holding pattern."

By 2010, after much negotiations, Giles was able to obtain the land that became the Commons.

Brenda Krug said that during the time the society was waiting for a permanent site, the plan for it changed.

They decided it should be a place that "would not just commemorate names and dates but would incorporate pictures with captions and short texts that would really describe the people and the events that happened in South Cowichan. Our society wanted to present true glimpses into our past," she said.

Cobble Hill resident Ruth Koehn and her husband, Chris, were instrumental in producing a design "that blends with and complements the rest of the village," she said.

John Krug, the Cobble Hill Parks Commission chair, worked with both the commission and the Cowichan Valley Regional District to get the job done.

He explained that it took engineered drawings, and signing an eight-page document and "the grace of the CVRD Parks and Recreation Department" to get the job done.

Giles stood up to acknowledge the hard work of the many people involved.

She said it did take seven years to get the wall to its unveiling but "generations to come will be able to look at the names on this wall and remember our history and that it really important."

She also said that many newcomers may not know that Cobble Hill was a thriving, bustling community that had boardwalks, a telephone office and was home to the train station.

"It really was the place to be. It’s sort of vanished and we really need to remember what our early pioneers saw: a place that was wonderful to call home."

Then, Giles staged a mini roast of Krug. "I want to acknowledge John Krug, and watch him turn beet red. He should be praised, not just for this structure, but for what he has done for our community for the last nine years. He has put his heart and soul into ensuring that our parks became more than just pieces of land that were never used. Under his tutelage, we began to revitalize our parks and make sure that parks were available to the community and something

that we could be proud of. "He brought that determination to the history wall, too.

"John acted as general contractor for this project. He sussed out all the materials we used, and made sure we got a good price on everything. He took the timbers home to his workshop and put three coatings on them, something that really stunk! He is never going to get that smell out of his work shop," Giles said. ""He also helped with the concrete, rock work, landscaping, timber framing and he did all that – at least when I was around – with a smile on his face. I want to thank John on behalf of the community for what he has done for us. I can tell you right now that if we’re ever going to have a hurricane, a tornado, or something with big winds, come and grab hold of this structure because it won’t move. It will be here when everything else is levelled."

John Krug, in an emotional reply, said he and Giles made a good team.

"She just knew what levers to push and pull. She bought this property for $10. It’s 1.6 acres. It was the old Highways works yard that was shut down 10-12 years ago. It had a chain link fence around it and was full of broom but it was at the centre of Cobble Hill. So, she kept after the provincial government until they gave up and said: here it is, go away! She led us in so many ways. Whatever success I had depended on Gerry. Without her none of this would have happened." Current Cobble Hill area director Matteus Clement, also on hand for the opening, quipped that it was always an interesting experience "to be the youngest guy at a historical wall event".

He said he’s been learning a lot about his area and now, as he engages in small scale farming and engages with the community, he’s finding that the old-fashioned idea of walkable communities is back in style.

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