Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Beaver Lake General Store

The Beaver Lake General Store on West Saanich Road is in danger of demolition. The picture to the left is of the store back in 1979 when it still functioned as an actual general store.

The current owners are proposing building a new commercial and residential building on the site and only retaining a facade of the building. The Saanich planning process has given the green light for this to go forward. I am sure they are trying to be as sensitive to the heritage as they can afford to be, but I am still saddened to see some more of the history of this region disappear.

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The development plan for the site
calls for the facade of the building to be retained though moved to a different location on the property. I can understand why the owners want to redevelop the site, the existing building is not well situated on the property and is not a very functional building. The owners want to put in a vet clinic on the ground floor and living space above it.

The building is a registered heritage building but it has been allowed to decay significantly over the years. The building has not been desginated a heritage building. Saanich has both a registry of heritage buildings, a wider list that affords less protection and it has a heritage designation process. There really needs to more discussion in our community about our past before we lose it.

The Beaver Lake Store it is in a bad enough state now that it seems that demolition is the only real option that makes economic sense. This building highlights a problem with heritage buildings, unless the owner is willing to make the effort to look after a building there is a strong likelihood that the building will not be maintained. It is too easy to let a building decay and not face any sanction for doing so.

The building was in regular use and functional as of 1990 as the above picture shows, though the store was no longer is use as general store, but as a invocation of the Gods of kitsch. Given how retail works these days and the limits of the building, it is not a surprise that is has been under used for sometime now.

The core of the building was built in 1905 and moved to the present location in 1933. Like many old buildings in rural BC, the building was added to over and over again down through the years - sort of like the house I lived in in Lillooet. It is the sort of small local rural general store that was once pervasive all over BC but is now a very rare sight. As far as I know, only the Kilby General Store has been preserved.

Saving the facade is something, but I think we would be better served if the building was moved off of the site and clustered with some other heritage location. To this day I am very disappointed with the facade around the Bay Centre in downtown. Only on Fort Street does the saved facade seem to work and even then it does not feel like old town buildings, they still feel like modern reconstruction to me.

If one were to move the building, where would be a good location? Heritage Acres of the Saanich Historical Artifacts Society would be a good location. Though this would take a lot of money and there is no obvious source of the funds needed. Saanich may want to consider development of some sort of a heritage park in rural Saanich to preserve some buildings and create a living museum. Burnaby has done something like this with the Burnaby Village Museum. I have been there and I am impressed with what they have done. Given the tourism focus of so many people in this region, I would think here would be a lot support for something like this.

In the end, another one will bite the dust.
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