A brand-new wooden shed sits empty, next to Tim Paul’s historic language pole in Millstone Park, at the corner of Roger Street and Victoria Quay in Port Alberni. The shed is a gift, donated by The San Group, a forest products corporation with facilities on the Lower Mainland and in Port Alberni.
Worth an estimated $90,000, the shed was built and donated to support the efforts master artist Tim Paul is making to assist in the revival of Nuu-chah-nulth language and culture, according to Kevin Somerville of The San Group.
The San Group refers to the building as a visitor center, which sits next to the Language Pole at the edge of the Somass River. Their vision was to provide a place where visitors could come to the little riverside park and learn about Nuu-chah-nulth culture and history, and maybe watch artists in action.
But city zoning bylaws prohibit structures like the visitor centre at the Millstone Park site, which is adjacent to The San Group’s property.
Scott Smith of the City of Port Alberni’s Bylaw Services said the structure was built without permits in a heavy industrial zone.
“Our primary concern is safety,” said Smith.
Somerville said they thought the structure would be okay because it was built without a foundation.
Smith told Ha-Shilth-Sa that moving the structure would be a good solution and the city was not actively pursuing anyone for a remedy.
At a Nuu-chah-nulth Artist Symposium, hosted by Huu-ay-aht First Nations in mid September, Tim Paul talked about the potential uses for the building and the need to have it moved. Artists could drop by and work on projects at the site, mentoring up-and-coming creators, Paul suggested.
A member of the Hupacasath First Nation stepped up and gave permission to have the structure moved to his private property on River Road, but the land needed to be cleared of brush and debris. Paul said he needed help getting it done.
Trevor Little of Tseshaht said he would ask his men’s group for help to clear the lot. The following weekend Little, members of his men’s group and other volunteers arrived with their own supplies and equipment, and, over two days, cleared the site.
Somerville said The San Group and Timber Rose arranged and paid for moving the building, which was set to take place on Sept. 29.
“The building will be dismantled and go by lo-bed down to the River Road property on Friday, and maybe Saturday,” he told Ha-Shilth-Sa.
The donation of the building and its move is not the end of the partnership between The San Group and elder Tim Paul.
Somerville said The San Group would continue to work together with Paul on other projects.
“We could potentially secure logs for poles or canoes, it could be an inaugural project for the River Road location,” said Somerville.
The San Group wanted the shed to serve as a learning centre for carving and thought that centering things around the Language Pole would be good.
The donated shed will still serve its original purpose at its new location on River Road. Other organizations in Port Alberni are writing proposals to support Indigenous art projects at the new shed.