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This page last updated April 2, 2017

© Michael Kluckner

Cottages at Belcarra

Update April 2, 2017:

Some distressing news arose from the Metro Van Board of Directors meeting last Friday: the Board endorsed the new Belcarra Regional Park Plan that calls for the demolition of all but one of the Belcarra South cottages. City of Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay opened the discussion with the reasonable, logical argument that the Board should not even be considering a park plan that is non-compliant with Port Moody’s bylaw put in place for the specific preservation of the cottages. And he suggested that everyone at that table could be put in the same position, that is, every municipality having duly protected what it deems heritage, could be overruled by the Metro Vancouver Board of Directors. Nevertheless, the Board approved it. The plan, put together by Park staff, should never have been endorsed by the Parks Committee (for the same non-compliant reason) but once the Committee endorsed it, the Board followed suit with various Board members arguing the issue had been discussed for “far too long” and it was time to move on.

 Metro Van Regional Parks will be asking Port Moody for compensation so Port Moody mayor and council are put in a difficult position.

 For all of Metro Vancouver’s talk about affordability and homelessness, it seems insane to be moving residents out of their cottages, replacing their homes with picnic tables and fifty parking spaces when the present parking lot and picnic tables remain all but empty from October to March.

Update March, 2017: Metro Van Parks recommends eviction of the tenants: Click on the image for the story.

Update from Jo Ledingham, July, 2016, as Metro Vancouver Parks surveys the general public on the future of Belcarra South Park, including the cottages:

Metro Vancouver Regional Parks' policy is that there be no housing in Regional Parks. But there ARE houses in Regional Parks and it's at the Board's discretion. Exceptions have been made in Minnekada Regional Park and Campbell Valley Regional Park, for example. 

The MV Board of Directors initially approved the Parks Committee's recommendation to demolish the Belcarra South cottages, built in the early 20th century for summertime use, in Belcarra Regional Park. Subsequently, the Belcarra South Preservation Society, resident year 'round in the cottages, fought for and received heritage status for the six cottages that are within the jurisdiction of the City of Port Moody. (A seventh cottage, part of the community of cottages, is in the Village of Belcarra).

Port Moody went a step further, passing a bylaw that prevents removal or demolition of the six cottages. So the game has changed: the cottages must remain but Metro Van persists in its plan to evict the tenants who pay rent and who have maintained the cottages completely at their own expense for decades. Staff has now been directed to go to the public for ideas for the future use of the cottages - cottages MV would really rather tear down. It's an interesting impasse.

Update April 30, 2015, from Jo Ledingham: Bylaw 3006 passed! Six of the seven Belcarra South cottages have received long-term protection by way of a City of Port Moody Heritage Designation Bylaw. The seventh is currently being considered for inclusion on a yet-to-be-created Belcarra Heritage Registry.

Metro Vancouver sent Alan Neilson, General Manager, Planning, Policy and Environment, to the recent Port Moody public hearing. He spoke extremely effectively and made clear Metro Vancouver’s opposition to the bylaw. There were two surprises in his 'On-Table' documents that I had only a moment to scan before either of us addressed mayor and council: "An earlier concept plan for Belcarra Regional Park made mention of expanded parking in the area near the cabins. This concept plan no longer exists", he wrote. [Two hundred additional spaces had been indicated in the 1994 Park Plan and were opposed by the City of Port Moody until a bypass route to the Belcarra Regional Park Picnic Area was constructed.] And, "Metro Vancouver will withdraw its current application for demolition permits". [Metro Van’s request for a demolition permit had been approved by the City of Port Moody back in March.] 

These two revelations sort of took the wind out of my sails.

I quoted directly from passages of your email to me** and reconfirmed the cottage community's claim to heritage. Robert Simons, President of the Port Moody Heritage Society and Jim Millar, Executive Director of the Port Moody Station Museum both spoke eloquently on our behalf. There were two 'on table' letters from Port Moody residents who thought the cottages should be demolished. Neither of these letter-writers spoke, however.
The bad news is MV's unchanged position regarding our tenancy: "It is important to emphasize however, that in keeping with the Board's clear direction on the matter, Metro Vancouver will not entertain any options that extend the current residential tenancy of the cabins, or introduce any other form of residential use”, Neilson wrote.

What we now have to do is convince Metro Vancouver that evicting the rent-paying cottagers and boarding the places up to rot makes no sense. Why would they not let us stay until plans and funding for some other use of the cottages are in place? Moreover, it is the 'cottage community' that has heritage status - not merely the cottages. The Davis Orchard in Crippen Regional Park, Bowen Island is an obvious example of how not to proceed while the Hollyburn Ridge cabins set a local precedent of an excellent solution to private/public use of publicly owned land.

[**My (i.e. MK's) email:

- Current heritage policy nationally is emphasizing "values-based heritage," meaning a combination of the cultural, social and architectural, which is an evolution from earlier heritage recognition systems that tended to be focused on architectural quality and the homes and commercial buildings of Establishment figures. Municipalities now seek to recognize a full range of buildings and sites that reflect the evolution of the community. The Belcarra cottages are humble architecture but tell a part of the Port Moody (and Metro Vancouver) story that has otherwise been left out of the official narrative.

-Vancouver is in the process of upgrading its heritage register and is actively looking for buildings that can fill gaps in the narrative – the vernacular, the culturally modified, that is the types of structures that weren't considered important a generation ago because they didn't conform to a high-enough architectural standard.

- It is the community of cottages, not just the judge's house (which I gather even Metro Parks is willing to keep), that tells the story.

- West Vancouver provides the best example of a community, similar in size to Port Moody, that celebrates the diversity of its architecture and history. Specifically, West Vancouver not only acknowledges its fabled Mid-Century Modernist homes but also retains the Hollyburn cottage community dating from the 1920s. Like the Belcarra cottages, they are recreational properties of really humble provenance, and speak to a time when individuals could head out into the nearby frontier with an axe and saw to build their own piece of paradise.

-The parallel with Hollyburn, also a park, is unmistakeable for Belcarra. The private leasehold within the public space adds value to the public space, something that would be lost if the cottages disappear and forest returns, or picnic grounds are created, or parking is expanded.]

Update April, 2015: The cottages are still there and most are occupied. The issue is coming to a head late this month over a new eviction notice from Metro Parks ...

Jane Appleby has put together the work of a number of Port Moody's Passionate Outdoor Painters group into a fine little book, available for $30 from her website, or by phone at 604-802-4546, or from Frame Right Picture Frames in Burnaby (4394 Dawson St. 604-299-9362).

Update July 4th, 2014: there is the notice from the Belcarra South Preservation Society on June 30th: "The June 27 GVRD [Greater Vancouver Regional District] Board decision may save the cottages, but tenants must move out right away. We are proud of our efforts and our appeal to save this heritage community...."

Further information on their Facebook page is equally depressing – the residents have lost their homes, the cottages are or will soon become vacant, and the community is being dispersed. It's such a tale of square pegs in a round hole, of a historical curiosity that doesn't fit the bureaucratic mold. I heard the parks department director of planning on the CBC the other day claiming that the cottages had to be vacated because they were "unsafe" – translated, they are not to the current codes, and, because they haven't been brought up to code by the regional district during the time it has owned the property, the regional district could be liable if there was some accident. "Structurally unsound" was another term used by the planner: translated, the foundations, which have worked well for 80 years, do not meet current codes, which would involve full strip foundations with the small buildings pinned to them. Big deal, really – I would rather ride out the megaquake in any of the cottages than in the GVRD head office or any modern concrete condo. This is such a nanny state, one ruled by lawyers and concern about public liability rather than by common sense or bigger principles.

The director also made the comment that the cottages don't fit the GVRD definition of heritage, although they are willing to hear the opinions of Port Moody and Belcarra, both of which have added the cottages to their heritage inventories. One aspect of current national heritage policy that the GVRD is conveniently overlooking (and negating) is "cultural heritage," i.e. the community supported by the buildings. They've just dispersed it, making it easier for them to argue that the buildings are nothing more than vernacular architecture.

Below: I spent a day there during the last week of June, 2014, at low tide (around midday that day), painting in the fabulous summer light ....

Cabin Beach, looking across toward the south shore of the inlet and Burnaby.

The 2 watercolours below were painted on a fine April day in 2014.

A few of the historic cottages in Belcarra Park – 2 small watercolours from April, 2014.

In spite of Port Moody's addition of the cottages to its heritage inventory, and the Village of Belcarra's support, Metro Parks is determined to clear them away, even though they have no current plan or budget to modify the site for additional picnic space or other public use. They have ignored the proposed management scheme put forward by the residents and have issued eviction notices for the end of June.

These are the last examples of waterfront summer cottages in the immediate Vancouver area, dating from a time when access to the Belcarra area was only possible by boat from Vancouver or Deep Cove. It simply makes no sense to clear them away.

Is there an example of privately owned cabins co-existing with public use in a park? Yes, the Hollyburn Ridge cabins in West Vancouver. When I used to cross-country ski there many years ago, I always enjoyed seeing those old places; I couldn't use them but I didn't feel envious, resentful, anything like that. They made me imagine an earlier time when people could carry a saw and hammer off into the woods and do their own thing.

At Belcarra, I feel the same when I walk by them on the beach or see them through the trees when I head along the public path.

Please read through the correspondence below to get more information about the cottages and their evolution.

Update June 2, 2014, from Jo Ledingham: Just to clarify, the Village of Belcarra is also involved (as my cottage lies within its boundaries) and mayor and council have been every bit as supportive as PoMo’s mayor and council. They should be given credit. They are also exploring the heritage aspects of my place and the cottages as a whole. One of the councillors here has been advising and supporting me all along the way. There ARE plans for park expansion but they go back to 1985 and 1994 and there has not been an updated, approved plan since then. Much has changed and both political and public support has shifted regarding additional parking indicated as being in the picture “in the mid-term”, for example. An additional dock off Mayo Point (the rocks out front of my place) has been scrapped because of the beauty of the site and the inappropriateness of building a dock over it. Mayor Clay [of Port Moody] says he has never seen plans for Belcarra Park expansion in his 8 year term as mayor.

Update April 11, 2014: following a spirited campaign to write Statements of Significance for the cottage community and engage Port Moody Council, the following took place on April 9th. This is to forestall eviction by Metro Parks in June:

"I hope you are now aware that we considered this issue at our Council meeting last night and we are taking several steps to try to protect the cottages and maintain the tenancy. As you know, while Belcarra Park is in Port Moody, it is a GVRD park and the tenants have lease agreements with GVRD. We are not the landlord nor were we suggesting the removal of the cabins. I am hopeful we can come to an understanding/agreement with GVRD that benefits the cottage tenants and preserves this interesting part of our local history.

"Thank you for your passion and for contacting us. The show of support from the community will help in our discussions with GVRD."

–Mike Clay, Mayor, City of Port Moody

Written 2013:
This seems to me (i.e. Michael Kluckner) to be another example of the homogenizing tendency of governments everywhere. I don't have a place in Belcarra South, and whereas I might envy the cottage owners in an abstract sort of a way, I don't in any way resent their continued existence in a public park. The cottages, maintained entirely at private expense, provide a sort of charming tableau for a stranger like me, something to dream about were I to spot them on a visit to the park or while drifting by in a boat. I fail to see how the park or Metro Vancouver will be improved at all by their demolition. I hope to get out there this coming summer to, at least, have a look at them.

From Andrea Ledingham, February, 2013: My family has leased a summer cabin on the waterfront here since 1964. We originally rented from a private owner until 1971 when the GVRD expropriated the land for the creation of a municipal park. By 1975 with the threat of the destruction of our cabins, the summer tenants here formed a society, the BSPS (Belcarra South Preservation Society,) which succeeded in preserving this unique place by establishing a lease agreement with the GVRD outlining the rules governing our continued tenancy. We have since done all of our own maintenance including our road and our water system. All seven cabins are currently lived in. Over time most of us chose to be here full time and that is how it is today.

Just this afternoon, my mom (who is my next door neighbour and the president of the BSPS) received a hand-delivered eviction notice from Metro Van giving us until the end of August to vacate the cabins. Their plan is to destroy the seven cabins soon afterward. The eighth building in our community, affectionately known by us as the "Big House," will be restored since it has been given Heritage Canada status. You are very likely already familiar with the Bole House built by Judge Norman Bole about 100 years ago and occupied for 17 years by George Dyson who built his first Baidarkas in the shed behind the house. The remaining cabins were apparently built by Bole's friends and relatives in the 20's and 30's.

We are deeply saddened by the thought of bulldozers mowing down not only our homes but also a way of living that is vanishing. We believe the cabins have historical value and deserve recognition. We are not exactly sure how to proceed.

We did contact Ralph Drew, the mayor of Belcarra and a keen historian himself. Turns out he had already met with Parks and been informed about the demolition of the cabins. We only have one cabin in Belcarra (the best and most original) and the remaining under Port Moody's jurisdiction. We'll try to use Port Moody's 100 year anniversary to our advantage.

Also, we gathered together a small group to have a face to face meeting with the principal players in the Metro Van tower on Kingsway. Despite all of our best arguments against their rationale (largely liability), Parks were immoveable. 

I looked fondly at your Shuswap beach photo, your caption saying something about a deep tranquility and safety evoked in the image. Back in the day we didn't need tradespeople and permits to fix a porch or repair a roof leak. We drank water piped down by gravity from a small hand-made reservoir up on the hill. We still enjoy a community that gets together for tank cleaning and road work. Today's heritage seems to have prohibitive costs!

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Artwork and text ©Michael Kluckner, 2001