Photo: Conceptual mock up of proposed timber frame bridge to cross the Courtenay River at the foot of 6th Street. Pictured left to right are Norm Reader (who built the model), Ed Schum, Harry Holland.

 

As a back drop/inspiring vision about what building the proposed foot of Sixth Street pedestrian/cycling bridge across the Courtenay River might mean to our community, I was going to describe the immense coming together of community spirit that went into building the 50’x150’ community pavilion that is now the pride and centre of community life in the Village of Pemberton. BUT…no words of mine could possibly match the “being there” experience of going to the short (12 minutes) utube video of the project at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlfEF5prETY. It describes not only the great swath of the community that came together (planners, craftsmen, labourers, politicians, business people, first nations people—just about everyone in Pemberton had some part/some interest in working with the volunteers from the Timber Framers Guild to build this pride and centre piece of their community. I urge you to take a look at the video—it could be the most inspiring, learning, satisfying 12 minutes you have spent in front of a television for a long time.

If you like what you see of the Pemberton project try the even shorter (3 minutes) video of the same Timber Framers Guild bringing the citizens of Golden together to build a beautiful, community centre piece timber frame bridge over the Kicking Horse River on the edge of the city https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZglPWGc58I.

Now before I get any flack from the guild for misrepresenting what they do, I need to qualify my above statement to note that the Timber Framers Guild does not bring a community together to support one of their projects.  When a community has come together around a project, the Guild will enthusiastically support the community in accomplishing its task by bringing people with design and construction skills to work with the community. It is up to the community to supply the vision, coordination, volunteers, businesses, local government involvement—as in the public pavilion in Pemberton and bridge in Golden– that can make the project come to life.

The Guild does assist in helping to locate the kinds of grants that can make the project feasible in small communities. The video of the Pemberton project notes that Pemberton got a 1 million dollar project built for $75,000. When you are watching the video of constructing the Kicking Horse River Bridge notice—50 seconds in—the beautiful community market that has grown up around the bridge. It inspires me with a deep desire to see that kind of people-friendly, successful business building development expanding and anchoring Courtenay’s downtown business area.

Courtenay nearly had a Kicking Horse styled timber frame bridge over the Courtenay River from Sixth Street to Sims Park but it seems the choking off 5th Street from the west project took precedence and with several of the old council indifferent to anything cycling or pedestrian–flavoured the project withered on the vine.

Now we have a Courtenay Council that seemed like it would be pedestrian/cycling friendly but they recently voted almost unanimously for adding cantilevered extensions to the 5th Street bridge—a move that would preempt a Sixth Street bridge for, at least, a lifetime. It is hard to figure, if only from the money assessment side. Nobody is going to seek out private/community based grants or volunteer time to work on extending the current—hard to access, costly to construct walkways already attached to the 5th Street bridge. Even if council were simply interested in saving time and money it would take a much closer look at the community centred bridge project for the foot of Sixth Street.

By working together communities all over Canada (the world actually) have found grants and gifts for projects like the Sixty Street Bridge that greatly reduce the need for tax expenditures.

The thing that baffles me is that as soon as a publication like West World publishes an article suggesting that visitors will not find much outside strip malls and big box stores in Comox Valley municipalities,…why the politicians are out of their seats, red-faced barking with contentless rhetoric about how horrible it is to have some writer note the yawning lack of anything interesting in Comox Valley municipal boundaries.  Beautiful natural setting—the Comox Valley, but the constructed environment is…yawn. With Nanaimo doing an outstanding job of revitalizing its downtown, Courtenay is left with a reputation for being the soul-less, interest free Cache Creek of Vancouver Island.  Isn’t it sad that instead of putting so much effort into bellicose ranting Comox Valley Councils couldn’t take such an honest observation as information on which to rethink some of the kinds of development the writer was commenting on?  

Oh, My,Gosh, imagine what the travel magazines would say about our community if-Councillor Mano Theos had his way and the current 5th Street bridge was torn down in order to build a new four lane bridge in its place. Dump four lanes of traffic in downtown Courtenay? Yikes, ignoring the aesthetic impact on the community, he seems to think that would be good for business. Would you shop in downtown Courtenay with four lanes of snarled traffic exhaust polluting the air, deafening your ears and congesting the streets? Imagine what the travel magazines would say about that!

Why can’t our politicians see that bringing the community together to build the 6th Street timber frame bridge would be a huge draw (as it has been in Golden and as the community constructed pavilion has been in Pemberton)a turning point for the Comox Valley. We could, at long last, come together, work together, to build an icon that saves Courtenay a lot of money, inspires our citizens to know deep inside themselves that there is a community here that wants to work together rather than quarrel apart. What a tremendous jump in the public perceptions of the Comox Valley. What a great idea: saving money while enhancing the beauty and accessibility of our community.

It is easy enough to understand Courtenay Council’s desire to bundle up the transportation fixes in one grand development project. But extending the current walkways cantilevered onto the 5th Street Bridge is a big time and money expense that produces little net benefit. Consider the access implications of trying to thread even more cycling traffic from the walk way back onto 5th Street. Imagine the hapless pedestrians trying to thread their way through the merging and exiting cyclists when the sidewalk is already a challenging maze of curbs ‘n merges.

A community inspired and constructed pedestrian/cyclists bridge could still happen! But you would have to call every member of Courtenay council and tell them that you expect more of them—you expect that they will work with the community to create an affordable, accessible, community involved, beautiful Sixth Street timber frame bridge over the Courtenay River at the foot of Sixth Street.

 

Norm Reynolds