Questions over future use of the heritage Machine Shop on Oyster Bay Drive, in what is known as The Railway District, led to a testy exchange between Mayor Aaron Stone and the Ladysmith Historical Society’s Shirley Blackstaff at the Sept. 28 meeting of Ladysmith Council.
Blackstaff wanted to know what future use is intended for a large, municipally-owned space – formerly used as a machine shop by Comox Logging & Railway – behind the Waterfront Gallery and the Ladysmith Maritime Society’s Harbour Heritage Centre.
Earlier in the meeting council had initiated a proposal to lease the nearby Roundhouse building to the heritage society for up to four years to use for the restoration of railroad artifacts, including a steam locomotive and a unique logging car known as the Humdurgin.
But during question period Blackstaff said she is concerned the Town is backing away from what she took to be a commitment to use the larger Machine Shop as a permanent museum to house and display railroad and other large artifacts that are part of Ladysmith’s industrial heritage.
Without assurances that the Machine Shop space will be available to display the artifacts in a museum setting, she said it would be difficult to get volunteers to put in the hours it will take to restore them.
“If for a moment they thought it would go outside, under a roof, with a chain-link fence around it, or on a slab by the highway, they’re going to say to me, ‘No, we’re not going to help’,” Blackstaff said.
Stone assured her the Town had no intention of leaving the artifacts exposed to the elements. “You could string any one of us up if we didn’t fight to have the locomotive protected,” he said.
But he pointed out that an advisory group has been established to consider future uses for the Machine Shop, and that council cannot pre-empt the recommendations of that group. “We can’t as a council make arbitrary decisions without going to those other stakeholder groups,” he said.
He indicated there is interest among members of the advisory group to use the Machine Shop as a heritage and cultural centre.
City Manager Ruth Malli, when asked how to proceed, said, “You have a process in place to recommend use for that building, my recommendation is that you complete that and expedite it.”