Nestled in the heart of the City of Langford is a neglected property that has become a recent object of attention. A portion of Station Avenue, where it meets Veterans Memorial Parkway, has been chosen as the site of an arts-focused development project that aims to revitalize the area and bolster arts and culture in the community.
At the centre of the property are out-of-use rail tracks from the Island Rail Corridor, formerly known as the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Rail Corridor. The site is owned by the Island Corridor Foundation.
Overgrown shrubs and broom surround the tracks and a small structure marking an old train stop remains. Cars are parked side-by-side on the gravel that lines both the roadway and the train tracks, which extend down to the opposite end of Station Avenue and beyond.
Across from the site is a newly built affordable housing building operated by M’Akola Housing Society. Phase two of the M’Akola Housing development — a second building consisting of six storeys — is currently being constructed. Further down the road is seniors housing development Alexander Mackie Lodge as well as a building that houses the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #91 and the Goldstream Food Bank.
Bevin Avery moved into the M’Akola Housing building in August and says she’s loved living there so far, but wants to have a greater feeling of community. She sits on her walker outside her residence, and is joined by other women who live on the same street as they talk about the city’s proposed plans for Station Avenue.
“There’s a Facebook group that I started mostly for the buildings on the street,” Avery says. “We’ve been trying to create a sense of community, so [these plans] are fantastic.”
The women she’s with echo the same sentiments — that they’re excited to see what they say is currently an eyesore and unsafe area turned into something positive. But they, like other Langford residents, also hope for a chance to weigh in on the project over the coming months.
From eyesore to arts hub
On May 10, the City of Langford announced it would undertake a community development project in collaboration with the Island Corridor Foundation. The project focuses on arts and culture and seeks to revitalize Station Avenue. Plans include improving and creating formalized parking, adding a dog park to the area, attracting businesses, showcasing art and turning the property into an “inviting cultural precinct.”
A groundbreaking ceremony for the project was held on May 11, and the city unveiled renderings and plans for the property. The project aims to dramatically transform the area into a place that celebrates local First Nations, history, art and the city’s “evolving cultural identity.”
The plans include artisan huts rented out at below-market rates for local artists and businesses to sell their wares. There will be room for food trucks and adjacent picnic areas. Bike racks, public art and other amenities will be incorporated as well as a stage for local performers to showcase their talent. Based on renderings, the city plans to use structures like shipping containers, old rail cars and wood-frame huts to house these amenities.
The city will spend up to $1 million on the project, with funds coming from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities Gas Tax Fund.
Langford Mayor Stew Young says the project came from a need and desire to restore the area near the train tracks, particularly between Peatt Road and Veterans Memorial Parkway. He says bylaw enforcement is regularly called to the area to respond to complaints about overnight campers and tenters, graffiti and more.
The Island Corridor Foundation has turned the property over to the city with a 30-year-lease. This will allow the city to develop, maintain and keep a closer eye on it.
“Unfortunately when you neglect an area in a downtown core it can get a lot of problems,” Young says. “This will go a long way in getting the community involved, with eyes on everything that’s happening.”
Avery says she was getting worried about the area because of the speeding vehicles she has seen on the road. She says she noticed many overnight campers as well.
Jules Truchon, who was with Avery at the time and also lives on the same street, says she hopes the arrival of more businesses and pedestrians will improve the area.
“I’ve seen a few sketchy people,” Truchon says about the area. “I feel like if you have businesses around, that’ll probably lessen.”
Moving old plans into a new era
The idea of revitalizing this portion of Langford’s core is nothing new. Cindy Moyer, a community relations consultant and long-time arts advocate on the West Shore, has had her eye on the site for a long time.
About 15 years ago, Moyer says the West Shore Arts Council — of which she was part — identified Station Avenue as a place they could remediate and integrate into the arts community. The arts council took inspiration from the Trackside Art Gallery in Victoria, where the Rock Solid Foundation turned an area prone to criminal activity into an urban art corridor. Youth restored the area by cleaning it, painting murals and adding a pathway to it.
Moyer says she recalls meeting with representatives from Langford council, the Royal Canadian Legion, the Rock Solid Foundation, Premier John Horgan (who was a member of the Legislative Assembly at the time), and artist Paulina Eguiguren (representing the West Shore Arts Council) in the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #91 basement to talk about revitalization plans.
“We were all really stoked to see something happen there and recognized that it would be a great opportunity for the community to do something culturally aware,” Moyer says.
But with uncertainty about whether or not rail service would be reinstated, the plans were put on hold. Moyer says she’s glad to see them resurface in a new way.
“[Young] has moved it forward into a different era, where I think drawing food trucks and creating kiosks out of freight cars and stuff like that is genius,” Moyer says. “Now it feels like a city … It will give people an opportunity to incubate their ideas — whether they be an art thing, or maybe it’s a different kind of product or service that they’re trying to get a handle on.”
Arts and culture focus needed
After years of building up sports and recreation in Langford, Young says council is now turning its attention to arts and culture.
Judith Cullington, president of the Juan de Fuca Performing Arts Centre Society, says this focus on arts is a welcome change.
“It’s been kind of a missing piece of our community,” Cullington says. “If we want to have a vibrant, healthy community, we need to have both lovely sports and recreation, and the lovely arts and culture.”
While the Juan de Fuca Performing Arts Centre Society’s mission is to create a community-focused arts centre in Colwood, Cullington says this project in Langford is complementary to the society’s goals. She says the Station Avenue project, combined with plans for a 1,200-seat theatre in Langford, will help build a more robust arts community. Young also alluded to future plans for a theatre in downtown Langford, in partnership with local post-secondary schools.
“It’s great to have different levels of performances and art in the communities, from larger professional ranges down to the community level,” Cullington says.
The Station Avenue project doesn’t fill gaps when it comes to a need for more brick-and-mortar arts spaces on the West Shore, Moyer says, but it does give residents an option to build community and come together around the arts. Moyer was the executive director of the Coast Collective Art Centre, which was forced to close permanently last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She says that while this doesn’t replace the centre, it does give artists a place to showcase their work and sell their wares.
“If this can be part of a network where people can go from an interesting little place to another interesting little place to get their piece of culture, creativity, food and experiences, then I’m totally down for that,” Moyer says. “It does not replace the need for a … homeplace for the arts. We need a place that has the right vibe and character so that we can build on what we have in this community, which is just an unbelievable treasure trove of natural talent and resources that should be showcased in an appropriate way.”
Avery says she looks forward to having an arts hub at her doorstep.
“Having to use a walker and to know there’s something that’s going to be across the street, it’s exciting,” Avery says.
A community asks for input
The mood at the groundbreaking ceremony was not just celebratory. Langford is a rapidly developing city, and some residents are increasingly speaking up and demanding a say on the scale and nature of the change.
Related article: Growing Pains: The West Shore’s identity crisis
One such resident joined the ceremony and spoke up, voicing his concerns about high-density development happening elsewhere in the city. The mayor told the resident to bring his concerns to council at a later date, since they weren’t specific to the ceremony and site that day. The resident expressed his dissatisfaction with the answer. He maintained that he has raised his concerns before and wasn’t heard.
Avery, along with the women she was with, say they only found out about the plans for Station Avenue the day of the groundbreaking ceremony. They say they’d love to weigh in and offer input as well as share concerns over traffic, speeding and lighting along the road.
According to a presentation at the May 10 Langford council meeting, city staff told council in a February in-camera meeting that they were talking to the Island Corridor Foundation about this potential project. The plans were made public at the May 10 council meeting, where council voted unanimously to approve this project.
At the groundbreaking ceremony the next day, Young noted that the project would move fast. Phase one of the project — including formalized parking and a dog park — is expected to be complete by fall, 2021. The city plans to roll out other features by early spring, 2022.
When asked about whether or not residents had any input in the plans so far, Young’s answer wasn’t clear. But he noted that consultations with various groups in the development community as well as community groups like the Rotary Club of the West Shore will take place.
The Discourse reached out to the City of Langford for clarification about the degree of community and resident involvement up until this point and planned for the future, but did not receive a response by deadline.
A presentation about the project delivered to council on May 10 did say stakeholder engagement, including engagement with residents, will take place in the coming phases.
How does rail fit in?
Island Corridor Foundation CEO Larry Stevenson is enthusiastic about the Station Avenue revitalization. He says it could be a model for more projects like this along the Island Rail Corridor, extending up Island. And with the potential for reinstated rail service in the future, Stevenson says stations like the one in Langford could be a great draw for residents and visitors.
“When ICF was formed it was formed for a couple of reasons. Not just for rail but also to manage these lands for the benefit of the people of the Island,” Stevenson says. “Putting a project like this in place is phenomenal. It’s a fantastic opportunity for the communities, for the people.”
Stevenson points to communities like Duncan and Qualicum Beach, which have turned their stations along the rail corridor into beneficial areas for the community. The former train station in downtown Duncan has been turned into a museum, while a digital arts studio took over the train station in Qualicum Beach.
“It’s up to the community to determine what they need. It’s not up to ICF to make that decision,” Stevenson says. “At the heart of the railroad, it’s about connecting people, places and communities. This is a thing we can do to help that.”
Editor’s note, May 17, 2021: A previous version of this article said Cindy Moyer met with representatives from the B.C. premier’s office, among others, 15 years ago to talk about a revitalization project on Station Avenue. Moyer says she did not meet with representatives of the premier but recalls meeting with then-MLA John Horgan as well as representatives from the Royal Canadian Legion and artist Paulina Egeguerin. The article has been changed to reflect this.
This Delving Into Development article is made possible in part with funding from the Real Estate Foundation of BC and Journalists for Human Rights. Their support does not imply endorsement of or influence over the content produced.