Members of the Cowichan Lake Lady of the Lake Society are surprised and dismayed by the town’s response to their search for a new location to store their parade float, currently kept at the town office, which is slated for renovation later this year. Group representatives said they feel the town appears to discount the positive impact their program has on Lake Cowichan.
Denise Allan, society chairwoman, said they are still waiting for a response to a letter they wrote to the town’s parks and recreation committee last month. The letter outlined the float’s history, awards and significance to the ambassadorship of Lady of the Lake candidates.
“As of right now the only knowledge we have of our letter being received and read is what we read in the paper this past week,” she said.
On June 22, the Gazette reported the town was not able to provide the float with a new space and its public works yard was not a suitable location due to space constraints, potential liability issues and the timing of parades.
Allan acknowledged the town’s support in providing a space up until now, a town-owned truck for them to use at parades and a $500 grant-in-aid the group received this year, emphasizing she did not want the society to appear ungrateful.
“We weren’t asking for them to find us a new place, we were just asking for us to work together,” she said. “We’re not trying to sound like we’re throwing mud, but come on… We write a nice letter, we’re willing to have a meeting with you, and then they haven’t even responded to us.”
Allan spoke to the Gazette during a clean-up of the float storage area on June 25. They loaded old float materials — everything from signs to paper maché dolls to plastic frills — into trucks bound for the dump. She said volunteers were emptying the space now before summer is in full swing and people have less time to donate.
She said it wasn’t fair for the town to have a blanket policy when it comes to societies or community groups seeking help with spacing challenges.
“It’s not like we’re the Scouts. The Scouts don’t go to [places like] Tacoma promoting Lake Cowichan. How can they compare us to the Scouts?” she said.
Rob Frost, who has driven the Lady of the Lake float for 12 years and is in charge of the float’s maintenance, said he didn’t entirely agree with the rationale behind the town’s position.
“We did not demand they give us a place. We just said, ‘Hey can you accommodate us back in the work yard?’ And I would have been happy if they said no they couldn’t do that, but they elaborated on that. They said they don’t want public access, the gate’s locked on the weekend, liability issues,” he said. “I live right beside it, there’s tons of space. Maybe it’s not under cover, but there was never any dialogue.”
Frost also said he feels its unfair another community organization (the Lake Cowichan Kinsmen) has use of the works yard.
In an email to the Gazette, Nagi Rizk, superintendent of public works and engineering services, said there is no room for the float there now.
“Yes the Kinsmen have a place in the municipal yard for evening meetings or on weekends, they had this “hut” for decades,” said Rizk. “I am not clear on the relevance but my understanding [is] that this place is also to be vacated soon (Kinsmen are looking for another place to move to).”
Mayor Ross Forrest said it’s unfortunate the town doesn’t have a space for the Lady of the Lake Society.
“We provided a spot for them for around 20 years, which was a pretty good gesture to do that for them, and now that where they’re at is going to be torn down we don’t have another spot for them,” he said. “I don’t see why they should be upset with us over it.”
Forrest said the town’s response to the society’s letter was put in the mail on June 24. He said he doesn’t understand why the society would accuse the town of not being open to dialogue.
“I don’t think it’s up to us to go chasing them,” he said. “They’re more than welcome to come and meet with us. They chose to do it by writing a letter rather than coming to see us, so we would have gladly sat down with them to tell them our concerns and heard their concerns.”
Allan said she is hopeful they will find a new space soon. The Lady of the Lake Society has been offered temporary storage for the summer at Beaver Lake, but will need something more permanent come fall. The float requires approximately 30 feet by 15 feet, and doesn’t need to be completely indoors so long as it is covered. If they can’t find a place to keep the float, that part of the program will be discontinued.
“We might have to do zero parades. That’s what will happen,” she said, adding they will still attend parades but will have to have the girls sitting in a convertible rather than atop a float.
“[Lady of the Lake] is not a tradition we are giving up, ever.”