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Wondering What Next @ Chemainus?

Where Do You Go from Top of The Murals World? Down or Sideways?

Most murals towns starting their programs are unconcerned with the challenge of success. They are focused on avoiding failure!

But more than a few murals towns have made such extraordinary progress and/or seen their original zeal wane, and asked the question: Where Next?

Throughout November and December 2004, Scottish Arts Festival pioneers at Craigmillar on the outskirts of Edinburgh, have been staging an outstanding exhibition of 40 years working with the arts to overcome social deprivation; and addressing the question. In September Kati Kati in New Zealand asked: How Many Murals is Enough? And the same question is being asked at the World's Murals Top-Town, Chemainus. Edward Hill recently reported details of that town's debate and possible future visions in the The Ladysmith Chronicle

"It’s grandiose, it will take a lot of money and it may take decades, but the so-called Chemainus Concept Plan is realistic and achievable say North Cowichan officials. Municipal planners and council unveiled the vision of Chemainus’ evolution to hundreds of residents packed into the Senior’s Drop-in Centre last week."

Focus on Five Themes

"Planners had dozens of projects to choose from, but focused on five initial concepts: Developing the “gateways” at the highway at Henry Road, and Henry Road at Chemainus Road, the unused Weyerhaeuser land parcel, a marina with a breakwater and ocean walkway and the Echo Heights residential development".

Michael von Hausen, a Vancouver-based urban planner working with North Cowichan planner Chris Hall, gushed over the beauty of Chemainus, but said it lacks coherent pedestrian signage, has limited waterfront access and needs clearer walking routes between different sections of town. The entire image of Chemainus, he said, needs to be expanded beyond the murals.

“Chemainus has a great heart and the murals are outstanding,” he told the audience. “We want to polish Chemainus from a diamond in the rough to a gleaming jewel.”

The highway 'Gateway' envisions screening the industrial parks from River Road to Henry Road with trees and vegetation. The view driving south on the TransCanada from River Road is rather dismal, Hausen pointed out, and lacked actual signage saying Chemainus was here.

The 'Gateway' at Henry and Chemainus was illustrated as a large roundabout, which led to the Weyerhaeuser acreage, which was ambitiously displayed as a parking area, parkland and possibly an outdoor amphitheatre operated by the existing hugely successful Chemainus Theatre Festival.

A new road through the land jutted towards the marina project, a breakwater with moorage, shops and a wide waterfront pathway.

The final illustration outlined well-organized residential developments in the forested northwest sector of the town to accommodate natural population growth.

What Do Today's Residents Think?

Residents were able to give their two cents worth on each project in brainstorming sessions led by Council members or planners. They naturally had concerns on how increased traffic could by controlled, and the fact that the plans might require Chemainus Road to be widened. Some thought the ocean walkway should be planned to eventually stretch to Ladysmith, and addressed how parking would be handled by the marina.

“I find all this very exciting. We hope with public participation to refine the priorities,” said North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure [who will be travelling to Prestonpans in 2006 to share in the Raising of the Chemainus-Prestoungrange totem poles there crafted in red cedars donated by the town.].

The municipality will distribute a brochure in January 2005 outlining project priorities, the order of construction and funding ideas, with public input incorporated into the plans.

“All the developments face certain hurdles and require significant money from taxpayers and funds from other governments,” Lefebure added. Inded they are many, money not the least of them. To spruce up the highway Gateway, co-operation will be needed from the Ministry of Transportation and the various private landowners. The marina will need to go through lengthy DFO-required environmental reviews. Funneling logging trucks from Weyerhaeuser to the highway will need the co-operation of an existing private road owner. The Weyerhaeuser land has issues with soil contamination and the company hasn’t yet made any noises towards selling it!

“We have taken some liberties with planning, but have kept Weyerhaeuser informed,” Lefebure said. “The company is interested in selling unused assets in principle. How and when has yet to be determined.”

But regardless of negotiating the intractable web of private cooperation, bureaucratic necessity, and financial engineering [not exactly a new challenge at Chemainus], the plans were met with keen but measured enthusiasm from Chemainus residents.

“I’m delighted. This has been a long time coming, “ said Dr Karl Schutz, who spearheaded the Chemainus mural project and was also involved in developing a Chemainus concept in 1981 - but he described their original efforts as primitive. “The calibre of this presentation is fabulous,” Schutz said. “It’s excellent to see Council here. Everyone is energized again.”

That the marina project might actually see the light of day gave hope to Al Johnson, who for years lobbied and worked on Chemainus waterfront development. “This has all been proposed before, but maybe this time it will make it,” Johnson said. “Miracles do happen. We know that only too well in Chemainus.”

Published Date: November 23rd 2004

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