The following column was originally published April 20, 2019. The Kamloops Heritage Commission was a different group than the Kamloops Heritage Society that operates St. Andrew’s on the Square.
KAMLOOPS CITY COUNCIL could learn a thing or two from the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. Within hours of the devastating blaze that destroyed a large part of one of the world’s most famous and revered man-made structures, hundreds of millions of dollars had been pledged to restore it.
In contrast, in Kamloops, City Hall has been waging a war of neglect and attrition against heritage for years or, perhaps more accurately, against the Kamloops Heritage Commission. It seems to have regarded the hard-working commission as a pain in the ass, and has disrespected it right out of existence.
The war was started under Peter Milobar’s watch and completed under Ken Christian’s.
The last pocket of resistance is a handful of dedicated commission members who have agreed to carry on as part of a toothless advisory sub-group to the new Community Services Committee, a result of Christian’s perplexing re-ordering of the City’s committee hierarchy.
I initially had hopes for this committee but the treatment of the heritage commission has changed my mind.
There is more than a little irony in former eight-year commission chair Andrew Yarmie (he served on the commission for 22 years altogether) being handed an Exemplary Service Award during the annual ceremony last week. Yarmie kept it classy with his acceptance speech but his disappointment wasn’t hard to read between the lines of his remarks.
At a meeting with commission members the next night, City staff laid out the new rules. The commission was no more. The new “heritage engagement group” will be chaired not by a citizen member but by museum supervisor Julia Cyr. There will be four one-hour meetings a year. Members of the old heritage commission were welcome to join the new advisory group; if not, they could form their own non-profit society.
Yarmie says it was a “this is the way it is” kind of meeting. He’s going to stay, at least for the time being. Fellow heritage commission member Joanne Hammond, though, is leaving.
But to understand the full situation you have to go back almost a decade, to a time when the City wasn’t even sending a staff member to commission meetings. That improved over time, but communication did not.
The City has never had a heritage planner, a position that is common place in other cities. In Kamloops, heritage is done off the side of someone’s desk.
In 2013, kitchen-sink director Byron McCorkell and culture manager Barb Berger recommended the merger of the Heritage Commission and Community Arts Council to “streamline the process” and make it easier to get quorums at meetings. The problem was, nobody told the Heritage Commission about it; the decision just showed up on a City council agenda.
It made no sense. Heritage and the arts are not the same. Yarmie and his group took their discontent directly to council and the council voted down the merger, maintaining the commission as a separate group.
But, on the heels of that faux pas came the sale of the iconic CN Station heritage building to developer Culos Group for one dollar. Again, the commission was ignored. The commission was supposed to advise the City on heritage matters. It’s pretty hard to offer advice if nobody asks for it.
A more recent example of neglect was last year’s Heritage Commission proposal to place poppy insignias on street signs bearing the names of Kamloops war veterans.
The cheapskate council refused to pay the $8,400 total cost of placing the poppies on 51 signs, so the commission — led by member Jeff Lodge — raised the money itself through public donations. When he presented a cheque for $9,000 to City council, Christian didn’t turn it down.
For the past six months, commission members have been working hard on new terms of reference for themselves and a new heritage action plan. They were ready to go when the City pulled the rug out from under them.
There was a time in Kamloops when there was hope for the protection of important heritage buildings and structures in Kamloops. Good things were being done. That was then. The prospects for heritage have never been lower than right now.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at email@example.com.