I have recently learned that the Cowichan school district is interested in selling its holdings on Cairnsmore Street. They currently own seven lots on Cairnsmore, including the historic CVOLC building, the daycare facility, the location of the current weather station, and a number of heritage trees.
It is of great concern to me that these properties might be sold for potential development. I am concerned about changes development could bring to the Cairnsmore neighbourhood as well as the loss of heritage for the Duncan community at large. This is a quiet community with several early childhood centres, family residences, and senior housing sites nearby. A substantial development could significantly change the nature of the community.
Just as importantly, the development of these properties could result in the demolition of the CVOLC building (built in 1925) and the heritage trees on site. This seems like an important historic property with social value to our community. Heritage trees and historic buildings add character and distinctiveness to an area. Heritage is a fundamental ingredient in creating a sense of place for a community. I for one would be deeply affected by the loss of this building, a building which provides charm and character to the Cairnsmore neighbourhood, and which stands as an example of our community’s tangible past.
Historic buildings have much to offer a community. They speak of a city’s past, its culture and complexity. They offer residents and visitors an aesthetic example of history, create a sense of permanency, and they offer interest in a community. Their materials, awkward corners, and mixtures of styles create a feeling that is homey, warm or reassuring in a way that newer buildings do not.
I urge members of our community, Duncan city council, and the Cowichan school board to preserve this place as a piece of Duncan’s heritage now. Development should only be considered if it honoured its heritage, preserved the trees, and did not expand its footprint. A restored community building could be used as a centre for community development — it would be a great site for offices for non-profit organizations, a local museum, a place for cultural events and gatherings, a location to offer community classes, or to house an early childhood program. The building could become the heart of the neighbourhood like The Hub at Cowichan Station.
Let us remember that the destruction of historic buildings and heritage trees is a one-way street. Once a historic site is gone there is no chance to renovate, restore or preserve.