Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson and Mayor Aaron Stone at the announcement on Friday morning that Ladysmith has received $1.8-million in federal gas tax funding to help with repairs and upgrades to the Machine Shop. (Mike Gregory Photo)

UPDATED: Ladysmith receives $1.8M for upgrades to historic Machine Shop

Ladysmith has received $1.8-million in federal gas tax funding to assist in the restoration of the historic Machine Shop on the town’s waterfront.

There was a roar of applause from community members in the Ladysmith Waterfront Arts Centre Gallery, located on the top floor of the building, after the Mayor Aaron Stone made the announcement alongside Selina Robinson, B.C. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley.

Stone said arts, culture and heritage are “important elements in all sustainable communities” and the funding allows the town to expand on its cultural assets as it keeps the Machine Shop as a focal point for waterfront initiatives.

“This is meant to be the arts and heritage hub where the story of Ladysmith going back over 5,000 years to Stz’uminus traditional territory and the 120 years of Ladysmith’s industrial history can be told to people and made part of the greater opportunity that Ladysmith has and then you add the arts into it and it just really completes that picture,” he told a scrum of reporters.

The total cost of upgrades to the building are estimated at $2.25 million and the town has applied to the Island Coastal Economic Trust in the hopes of securing the remainder of the funding.

Money will first go towards restoring certain “under-utilized” areas of the Machine Shop and then further invest in other users of the buildings.

“There’s significantly more space that’s under-utilized or not utilized because it’s not fit for public use. We need to make those significant investments, structurally, mechanically, insulate it, make it more more energy efficient and make sure it’s going to last for the next 100 years,” Stone said.

“Once we’ve done that then we can invest in the amenity pieces that expand on assets like the art gallery, leverage that to a higher level, provide better studio spaces…”

The Machine Shop was originally built in 1943 and maintains an important cultural and heritage hub for the town. Its current tenants include the art gallery, the Ladysmith Maritime Society, Harbour Heritage Centre as well as several artist studios including that of Coast Salish carver John Marston.

Both Marston’s father and grandfather also had workshops in the building prior to him moving into the space three years ago.

“A lot of the community members here are connected to the building in one way or another so to see it preserved is pretty important to everyone,” he said. “When I first began working here it was an opportunity to bring cultural aspects into more of a public area then I was in before. I’ve created a lot of friendships that way and had a lot of positive discussions about the way things are done culturally.”

Minister Robinson, who had an opportunity to tour the art gallery prior to the announcement, said buildings such as the Machine Shop are important because they are valued by community as a gathering place.

“It’s a very unique place to be able to come together and create art and then display it. I haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else in the province so you have a very significant treasure here…..it’s also an economic driver in bringing people down to the waterfront and appreciate the history of Ladysmith, where it’s been and where it’s headed,” she said.

The Machine Shop restoration is one of over 100 projects that will share in the $193-million in federal gas tax funding announced on Friday.

Ladysmith & District Arts Council was granted a small space by the town in the former home of the Comox Logging and Railway Company, now called the Machine Shop, back in 2006.

The non-profit’s steadfast vision was to create a public art gallery, which has now expanded over the years thanks to volunteers and support from the town, as well as local businesses who sponsor the many exhibitions.

As one would expect, the Arts Council’s Kathy Holmes could barely contain her excitement following the announcement.

“This building is a treasure. There’s no other building like it on the island,” she said. “We’ve worked really hard at bringing art into the community and it has its economic benefits. Other businesses have opened up because there’s an art gallery here; people have moved here because we’re here; so preserving the building will make it that much better. I’m just thrilled.”

Routley pointed to the economic spin offs of these sorts of infrastructure investments as tourists are attracted to the beauty of B.C. and visit places such as Ladysmith’s waterfront.

“When they come here, they come to a place like this and they spend time here and they gain experience, gain memories that are lasting and positive and really connect them to this place that we live in,” he said.

“Art and the infrastructure to support people coming to experience our communities is so important. It has that obvious economic connection when people come to our communities and spend the money here…”

LMS executive director Rod Smith also said it was “extremely positive” to see movement on the Waterfront Area Plan and complimented those that put in the work to secure the grant.

“I think it’s great. The timing is wonderful on the heels of annoucing the Waterfront Area Plan to get started in this way on the cultural hub,” he said.

“It’s part of mandate of protecting and promoting maritime heritage so it means a lot that this building is going to be restored. I think that probably opens up opportunities in terms of what we can do with programming and serving the community better.”

The Ladysmith Waterfront Area Plan included several “first wave” projects such as the restoration of the Machine Shop and the re-zoning of what’s known as the Jewel and potential residential development near Transfer Beach Park as well as negotiatons with provincial and federal partners surrounding the Slack Point remediation.

“At this stage while we’re working through the legislative process, this doesn’t require any changes to use, rezonings or (Official Community Plan) amendments to do this work so it’s the most accessible piece and I just couldn’t be more thrilled,” Stone said.

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