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Maybe the Flamborough isn't sunk, yet

The stern section of the HMS Flamborough Head is slated for demolition.  - Outlook file photo
The stern section of the HMS Flamborough Head is slated for demolition.
— image credit: Outlook file photo

A group of North Shore heritage defenders has been making waves ever since CNV council voted unanimously to dismantle the HMS Flamborough Head stern.

They've rallied around the North Vancouver-built Victory ship relic, organizing public demonstrations and a petition, writing letters to local papers, speaking at council meetings and emailing municipal leaders.

Now, CNV councillor Pam Bookham has responded to the last-ditch SOS by tabling a motion tonight (Jan. 27) to revisit council's decision in September to scrap the stern section of the Flamborough head, which for years has stood shrouded in shrink-wrap in front of Lower Lonsdale's Pinnacle Hotel.

"This stern has been on the waterfront and there's certainly a number of people in the community who have a high regard for it and we've certainly been reminded of them about its significance," says Bookham. "Basically it's a monument to the shipbuilders and those who sailed in those Victory ships and I think it represents a particularly magnificent moment in our history."

The CNV councillor was also swayed by the outcry from many in the heritage community about the fact that the decision was made behind closed doors.

"I guess I'm particularly concerned about the feeling that this [decision] was done in the dead of night," says Bookham. "I strongly believe that we need to be transparent in our decisions and any information that can be made available to the public should be made available."

The Flamborough decision, as has been explained by council, was kept in-camera due to liability issues surrounding the three-storey stern section. And while Bookham recognizes the need for certain staff reports to remain confidential, she would like to see a practice of releasing two reports: one for closed-door discussion amongst councillors, while the other, containing as much possible information, is released in open council at the same time.

"I'm not quite sure procedurally how we can handle that but it's something I'll be looking into," she says.

In her motion, Bookham is requesting staff to investigate options and financial implications for preserving the stern.

For the motion to be adopted, she will need support from three other councillors.

"One of the things that is moving me is the number of emails we've received from people who have direct family ties to the shipyards," says Bookham. "Either they worked there or had family members who worked there. I think there is a sense that there is a great deal of insensitivity and I think that perhaps council had to be educated or reminded of that time and our responsibility of ensuring that that does not get lost."

The massive stern section of the HMS Flamborough Head is being dismantled not far from where it was riveted together and launched on Oct. 7, 1944.

During the Second World War, North Vancouver's thriving shipbuilding industry supplied nearly 150 of the 10,000-ton Victory ships to the Royal Navy.

So far, the city has paid approximately $381,000 to have Flamborough's stern removed from the rest of the ship, transported to Lower Lonsdale, moved to its current location and shrink-wrapped.

The disposal cost for the stern could be as high as $250,000 because it contains amounts of asbestos, lead-based paint and pigeon poop, which is also considered a hazardous material.

Speaking with The Outlook last month, Mayor Darrell Mussatto empathized with the reaction of the local historical community about the dismantling of the stern and called it a "tough decision" to make. “We invested a lot of time, money and energy into [the Flamborough Head] so it was not an easy decision and I can probably say for council it wasn’t an easy decision for them as well.”

“It was tabbed to be part of the national maritime centre so when the funding fell through for the national maritime centre from the provincial government I think that was the beginning of the end.".

Currently, the hazardous materials cleanup of the Flamborough is nearing completion and the contractor is finalizing a demolition plan for the stern, according to Barbara Pearce, CNV’s director of special projects, who is directing the waterfront project.

The city is also in discussion with an American group that is interested in the ship's engine.

If Bookham's motion is adopted the demolition would be delayed, Pearce said.

Council's decision to dispose of the stern has left John Stuart, president of the North Vancouver Historical Society, bristling.

"Of all the ships they built that's it," he told The Outlook a few weeks ago while pointing at the ship.

"The last reminder of the glory period [of North Vancouver shipbuilding] is Flamborough. There are no other examples available to us. We can't go out and get another one because there aren't any."

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