Maple Bay, North Cowichan – Elkington House, a historic gem dating back to 1894, holds the distinction of being North Cowichan’s only designated heritage house.
Its preservation has become a matter of concern for the Oak Park Heritage Preservation Society and heritage enthusiasts in the region. Westward Independent recently had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Gowland, a representative of the Oak Park Heritage Preservation Society, to delve into the challenges surrounding the preservation of this remarkable piece of history.
Currently owned by The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), Elkington House stands on a three-acre parcel of land surrounded by the natural beauty of Gerry Oaks. Typically, NCC-owned lands are inaccessible to the public. However, Mr. Gowland suggested that if this parcel were transferred to the municipality, it could become a public attraction, providing a space for visitors and locals to appreciate and enjoy its historical significance.
The Oak Park Heritage Preservation Society secured over $350,000 in grant money from the Canadian Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program, which they state would be more than sufficient to address immediate preservation needs, such as the roof and windows. Unfortunately, The Nature Conservancy has imposed restrictions, requiring that the house and land be owned by a government entity or a well-established non-profit with expertise in heritage building preservation before any renovations can commence.
The Society initially reached out to the province, but they displayed no interest in taking ownership of the property. Subsequently, discussions were initiated with the municipality of North Cowichan. While the staff estimated an additional $500,000 for seismic upgrades and other necessary improvements, they did not share a detailed budget breakdown with the Society.
The Oak Park Society has made multiple presentations to North Cowichan, highlighting examples of other municipalities that own and successfully preserve heritage houses. They pointed to Delta as a shining example of a community that actively promotes and protects its heritage properties, emphasizing the historical tours and promotions that enrich the experience for locals and tourists alike.
With North Cowichan lacking similar historical tours or promotional efforts, the Oak Park Society proposed the idea of transforming the Gerry Oak-covered land into a public park while offering Elkington House for community or tourist rentals for weddings, gatherings, conferences, and more.
The primary issue in preserving this heritage home appears to be funding and ownership. North Cowichan, upon receiving the $500,000 staff estimate, believes that the funds must be readily available to obtain the land. However, Mr. Gowland argued that the Society’s grant money could significantly contribute to the restoration costs, with additional investments spread over 10 to 20 years.
The preservation of Elkington House has become a focal point for heritage enthusiasts in North Cowichan who yearn to conserve the region’s remaining historical beauty amidst a rapidly modernizing society. As the community celebrates its 150th anniversary, the debate continues on how to preserve and celebrate the rich history that is integral to North Cowichan’s identity.
North Cowichan has informed us that the cost of making the building usable has significantly exceeded double the grant provided by the society. This is due to the substantial increase in building costs over the past three years. North Cowichan has also indicated that the ongoing maintenance costs for the municipality will only be incurred if the entire amount required to bring the house up to habitable standards cannot be utilized.
Regrettably, they have been unsuccessful in securing additional funding from the province to cover the remaining costs. If North Cowichan considers acquiring the property with the house, they must ensure the property can be put to practical use.
Amid this discussion, the question remains:
Will any level of government step up to preserve this vital piece of its heritage and provide a historical and cultural experience for generations to come?
Only time will tell if Elkington House will stand the test of time or fade into history as an opportunity lost.