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A Windy Turn of Events

In December of 2018, only a week before Christmas, Vancouver Island was hit by a major wind storm. Cited by BC Hydro as being one of the most destructive storms the company had ever witnessed, the windstorm brought with it millions of dollars worth of damage to the province of British Columbia. Thousands upon thousands of citizens on Vancouver Island alone were without power for days (and in some cases weeks) following Mother Nature’s windy outburst.

Among the worst of the damage done in Ladysmith, was that experienced by the Machine Shop, which was home to the Arts Council of Ladysmith and District at the time. In an article titled “Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery Goes Topless,” posted by the Ladysmith Chemainus Chronicle, the details of the damage done on December 20th are recalled. In an interview for this article, Gail Ralphs tells the reporter that she was in the upstairs foyer when the wind and rain joined forces to blow a hole in the roof of the Machine Shop. Ralphs notes that there was a “definite drop in air pressure” right before the windows bowed inwards. Despite the fact that there was no direct damage done to the occupied gallery space, the Machine Shop was evacuated, and habitants were ordered to stay clear of the building until a damage assessment had been completed, along with repairs. In an attempt to preserve items of value, a small team consisting of Kathy Holmes, Gail Ralphs, Ora Steyn, and Angela Bajich were permitted to enter the building for one day to clear out the gallery.

On December 30th, the council’s board arranged an emergency meeting to discuss the immediate future of the gallery. While waiting to hear from the Town of Ladysmith, the board put “Plan B” in place, which allowed them to be creative with venues for upcoming events and begin the transition to a (hopefully temporary) digital gallery. The resilient nature of the board became very clear when they went ahead with their scheduled January show opening ceremony at Aggie Hall. Between 80 and 100 people were in attendance, physically demonstrating their support for the arts. During this process, Kathy Holmes noted that the Town of Ladysmith was incredibly helpful when it came to keeping the board informed during the extremely hectic time. At this point, board members hoped that repairs to the Machine Shop would begin swiftly, and their move back into the space would follow suit.

However, both of these hopes would turn out to be a form of wishful thinking.

During the month of January, the board was given permission to move back into the space, seeing as basic repairs to the roof had successfully taken place. In February however, the board was once again asked to leave the space, but they were able to return only a few weeks later. The space would remain occupied for a number of months. Business carried on as usual during the Spring and Summer months, with various shows and classes taking place within the building.

In an article published by the Ladysmith Chemainus Chronicle on July 23rd, 2019, it was publicly announced that the Town’s Waterfront Area Plan, which was made in collaboration with the Stz’uminus First nation, had secured the funding necessary to begin the upgrades to the Machine Shop. At this point, it became apparent that the initial hole in the roof was the least of the building’s worries. The structure of the building was deemed to be unsafe and in desperate need of reparation. With a hefty $2.25 million upgrade looming in the near future, the board knew that their time in the Machine Shop would soon come to an end once construction began. More details about the funding can be found here.

“As an arts, culture and heritage hub in Ladysmith, the Machine Shop provides a wonderful location for people of all ages to appreciate and enjoy art in its many forms. Each year, thousands of people visit this treasured community space, and we are delighted that the Town was successful in its efforts to secure such a significant amount of external funding to renovate the building” (Kathy Holmes, as cited in the Ladysmith Chemainus Chronicle).

Come September, relocation efforts were well under way. With the Machine Shop out of commission, the board was grateful for the town’s efforts to provide them with a temporary location at the decommissioned Ecole Davis Road Elementary, which was shut down in 2014. Once the lease agreement was in order, the council began making the physical move into the temporary space. September 30th marked the first official day in the new location.

From this point onward, all gallery-related business would be conducted from inside the walls of the school. More information regarding the current location of the gallery can be found here.


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