Photo credit: Mack Laing with 55 lb salmon, 1955 (MHLS website photo, BC Archives)
The new Comox council will make a decision on February 6th of whether the Town will finally honour the agreement it made with Hamilton Mack Laing (Laing), or continue to try to tear down the house he left to them in trust. The Mack Laing Heritage Society of Comox BC (MLHS) has asked to present to the Council on January 23rd regarding the decision, but has not yet received a response.
Laing was a world-renowned naturalist who gave his house and 8 acres of property in trust to Comox in 1973. Laing died in 1982, at 99, and left all of his money to Comox in a charitable purpose trust, with the intention that Comox would make his house into a “natural history museum.”
In 2017, the Town of Comox petitioned the Supreme Court of BC to vary the terms of the public trust established by Laing, specifically, to tear down “Shakesides” Laing’s home. Instead of honouring the agreement and making the house into a natural history museum, Comox rented the house privately for 32 years and deposited the net proceeds into General Revenue. The Attorney General for BC is a party in the role as “protector of trusts.”
MLHS applied to be a party, and on October 16th, 2018, instead requested, and were granted, intervenor status. MLHS, represented by well-known environmental lawyer Patrick Canning, was formed to fight for the realization of Hamilton Mack Laing’s last wishes.
In October, based on the importance and volume of MLHS’ evidence, Justice Thompson of the Supreme Court laid out his requirements governing the participation of MLHS at the variance hearing. These terms give MLHS the right to present their evidence in court, to make oral and written arguments including those defining the Laing Trust, the variation and any terms of the variation. MLHS will argue that the trust should be made whole by Comox, and that the museum should be created as explicitly stated in Laing’s will.
MLHS is hopeful that the new council will see their way to honouring the trust established by this “esteemed naturalist”. To this end, MLHS has created a business plan involving a large number of prominent community-spirited businesses and trades who support making this a collaborative project. This action will restore public confidence to anyone thinking of donating land or money to a public trust. The new Council has postponed a decision on the continuance of the hearing to consider their legal options until February 6th.
Kris Nielsen, MLHS President said “The Supreme Court gave us the opportunity to speak for Mack Laing’s intent and to demonstrate how past Councils reneged on the terms of the trust from the start and continued doing so for decades. The charitable purpose of any trust has to be taken seriously. That Comox taxpayers are paying large legal fees I find particularly disturbing. The taxpayers deserve to know much they have spent in legal fees and other costs on this matter so far.”