Community Papers

Former museum curator shares his vision for historic Ladner waterfront

Michael Duncan, an artist and former curator of the Delta Museum, peers at drawings whichhe believes would make Ladner’s waterfront and harbour a jewel in the Lower Mainland and a destination place for those seeking an authentic fishing heritage village.  - Adrian MacNair photo
Michael Duncan, an artist and former curator of the Delta Museum, peers at drawings whichhe believes would make Ladner’s waterfront and harbour a jewel in the Lower Mainland and a destination place for those seeking an authentic fishing heritage village.
— image credit: Adrian MacNair photo

A local man has a vision  for Ladner’s harbour which he says would make it a jewel of the Lower Mainland.

Michael Duncan, an artist and author who has lived in Delta for 46 years, says the Corporation is going about the development of Ladner’s waterfront in the wrong way, and should think about creating a heritage district with authentic fishing buildings.

“This is the last place that you could restore a harbour,” says Duncan. “If we’re calling ourselves the Ladner Village, for God’s sake, keep it a little village.”

Duncan comes with no uncertain bona fides in the area of heritage and history.

The former curator of the Delta Museum from 1972-1979, Duncan earned $25 a week at the time.

Sometimes the museum could afford to pay him and sometimes they couldn’t, but he ended up spending $25,000 of his own money on an unprecedented fishing museum.

He created an eight-foot painting as a backdrop to an exhibit featuring a gillnet trawler smashed against the rocks in dedication to the many fisherman in Ladner and throughout the Lower Mainland who have lost their lives at sea.

This isn’t the first time Duncan has fought the law and won.

When Finn Slough was under threat of development in the early 1980s he had an eight-page article printed in the magazine Beautiful British Columbia that so impressed the City of Richmond that they changed their minds.

But Duncan doesn’t want want Ladner to turn into Steveston, Lonsdale Quay, or New Westminster.

“Everybody thinks of what they’ve done in Steveston,” he says. “Now that’s a monstrosity.”

Duncan said Richmond’s harbour now has restaurants and “umpteen” little stores selling souvenirs and ice creams cones.

“Is that really what we want in Ladner?”

Duncan says the Corporation went to the same developers who made the Lansdowne Quay in New Westminster, but thinks it’s too modern.

Instead, he’d like to see a building similar to the one in Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island with a fishing museum and boat building on pilings overlooking the harbour.

While the outside would appear historic the inside could be modern, with commercial and office space on the upper floor and a museum on the bottom.

He envisions the centrepiece with a boat rising from the museum ground floor to the mezzanine square where visitors and office workers could see it.

Duncan says people are only limited by their own imaginations.

“You could have something look like a net shed but you could still have an office inside,” he says.

Duncan may surprise people by saying it doesn’t matter if the heritage buildings have disappeared. The Corporation could recreate the fishing village piece by piece and wooden plank by wooden plank just as they did with the Harris Barn.

“You rebuild and the interesting thing is it doesn’t matter if it’s reconstructed.”

Ideally, Duncan would like it to look as it did in the late 1800s.

“What makes a place to live is the character of the place.”

Duncan says he’ll back away if people don’t like his concept but he’d like them to be asked.

“This is the last natural basin that was a fishing harbour left so if we mess it up God help us.”

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