Friends rally against Bloedel Conservatory closure

About two months before she retired as park-board spokesperson in early 2008, Terri Clark issued a news release announcing a free day at Vancouver’s Bloedel Conservatory.

“No matter what the weather is outside,” the release read, “a visit to the Bloedel Conservatory will lift spirits with a great escape from the winter doldrums—without leaving town.” It also described the attraction as a great family destination, with its “meandering pathways, bamboo bridges over koi-filled ponds, exotic plants from around the world, and colourful birds”.

Almost two years later, Clark finds herself fighting the park board to keep the 40-year-old conservatory off the chopping block. She’s on the executive of Friends of the Bloedel, a group that was formed in reaction to a move by Vision Vancouver commissioners to shut down the popular destination.

“It plays the role of an iconic institution, one of which we have many, that really contributes to us being a cultured and civilized society with respect, in this case, for the natural world,” Clark told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

A park spokesperson for 35 years, the Kerrisdale resident is well-informed about how the city works.

She doesn’t believe that the $2-million estimated cost of replacing the glass roof is reason enough to shut down the conservatory. “It’s easily enough solved,” Clark said. “There’s nothing wrong with the roof that can’t stand for another four or five years. And here’s the thing: with every other facility in Vancouver they need to fix, you put it in the capital plan. Let the citizens decide if they want to spend the money.”

Clark also said the park board needs to be more familiar with the resources it has, one of which is right outside the conservatory. She recalled that when Prentice Bloedel gave the city money to develop the top of Queen Elizabeth Park, the timber magnate also provided a valuable gift to go along with it: Henry Moore’s imposing bronze sculpture Knife Edge—Two Piece.

“That sculpture is probably worth $10 million,” Clark said. “It sits up there, and people don’t realize it, but that was the biggest gift that Mr. Bloedel really gave to the city. We should be creative about all these things with the funding.”

Clark also noted that she has served many boards whose elected commissioners held their ground against city council so park services could be preserved, and that the Vision caucus shouldn’t be the exception. “If they’re truly worth their salt, they have to do that,” she said.

It isn’t just the Bloedel Conservatory that the Vision caucus voted to close down in order to address a $2.8-million park budget shortfall that city council had identified. Commissioners also voted to shut the children’s petting zoo in Stanley Park.

Faced with a public outcry over the cuts, Vision park commissioner Aaron Jasper will introduce two motions at the board’s December 14 meeting that seek suggestions on how the two facilities could be operated.

In a phone interview, Jasper stressed that the board can’t justify putting back the $410,000 it can save by closing the conservatory and the petting zoo.

“Our primary hope is that the attractions do continue, but not at taxpayer expense,” Jasper told the Straight. “That’s the perspective that the Vision commissioners are coming from.”

Lone Green commissioner Stuart Mackinnon commented by phone that he would prefer to keep the facilities public. Non-Partisan Association commissioner Ian Robertson said in a separate interview that the Vision caucus can simply reconsider its decision on December 14.

John Coupar is also on the executive of Friends of the Bloedel. The 53-year-old marketing professional has a long connection to the facility. His late father, Charlie, was the first administrator of the conservatory. As a 13-year-old, he was present when it opened.

“The people at the parks board who had a vision of this way back in the ’60s were kind of visionaries, and they were really environmentalists before the term environmentalist was ever used, before it became popular,” Coupar told the Straight by phone. “This park board that voted against it are all part of the Vision group, and certainly [Mayor] Gregor Robertson is part of Vision, and they really ran on”¦you know, that they were green.”

Comments (10) Add New Comment
Allan Taylor
There is no logic in the closure (for ever) of the Conservatory, it was built by donation, including the Henry Moore Sculpture, if they do follow up on their "plan" they should be made to pay back the $1.25 million donation (in today's dollars) made by the Bloedel family along with return of the sculpture. To veiw new images inside/outside of the Conservatory, visit my site at www.greatervancouverparks.com - no affiliation with the city
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Mariel Schooff
One of the very first place our family visited when we moved here 20 years ago was the Bloedel conservatory. It reminded us of the one we remembered in Toronto that we used to love to go to. Closing such a treasure is simply criminal and it would be very hard to ever reopen once closed.
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Zenon
The contention that the roof needs replacement for millions of $$ is highly suspect.

If you simply visit the Conservatory and have a careful look from inside and/or out, the worst you can see is that some of the acrylic (aka Plexiglas) bubbles have cracks. There are no gaping holes (else the birds would fly out) and the rust-proof aluminum tube superstructure looks to be in excellent condition. Triodetic domes are inherently redundantly strong and defect tolerant. The water dripping on you as you walk around inside is from condensation. If there are any actual leaks, they are fixable and anyway, the plants and trees and birds and fish just don't care.

Yes, the cracked bubbles should be replaced but there is no danger that any are going to shatter and fall in, either - they are tough, like aircraft canopies. Supposedly there are 80 damaged panes that would cost about $150K to replace all at once.

Vision Park Board Commissioner and Vice-Chair, Aaron Jasper, actually had the gall to come to the city council budget meeting last night and try to defend his party's decision to kill it by saying that the Conservatory building is "at end of life". (nice authoritative-sounding catchphrase, wonder where he learned that?). He offered no backing documentation such as engineers' reports regarding the roof or the overall structure. One telling fact is that the roof "crisis" has not been mentioned in previous Park Board capital plans - it seems to have arisen rather suddenly, out of the blue.

I suppose that, from Jasper's real estate agent's point of view, anything lacking granite countertops, stainless appliances, and built pre-2005 is decrepit. But the Conservatory is actually in good shape and had its main mechanical systems replaced not too long ago. It is built like the proverbial "brick shithouse" and, unlike BC Place, it was meant to stand for many generations, as a LEGACY to the people of the city.

It was Vancouver's first truly high-tech and Green building. I'm shocked that the four Vision Park Board Commissioners seem so willing to sacrifice it on incredibly short notice and for such small "savings". To keep it going as is, the city would only have to raise taxes by an additional 0.06%! And, you can bet it will get more visitors now that construction disruption (going on since 2001) in the area is over and we've just been added to China's list of approved destinations and the world is coming for the Olympics. It used to make money and it could again with just a bit of, uhh... vision.

How irresponsible, short-sighted, disrespectful, and mean-spirited is that? Why all the pessimistic negativity toward something they should be fighting tooth and nail to preserve? Something's fishy...and it isn't the Koi.
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Pat
When Aaron Jasper, Constance Barnes, Raj Hundal, and Sarah Blyth are asking you to vote for them in the next election for the Vancouver Parks Board, say no thanks! Never again. Give them the boot!
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Charlie
Is the park board really interested in saving the conservatory and finding alternative ways to keep it open? Are they listening to fresh ideas? Do they even care? It doesn't seem so. How could this precious gem, a gem that has been cared for and held so lovingly for so many generations, be lost in the hands of these few dirty scoundrels. They bash the conservatory at every opportunity because they have other plans for it and wish to devalue it in our eyes. They already know the plans, but we don't.

Their decisions seem to have been made a long time ago and their motives are not in the people's best interests. They have sneaky ideas for the conservatory which will become known a ways down the road after it is closed and possibly sold off. Watching the video of Jasper at the meeting made me realize that he is hiding the facts and is working from a hidden agenda. How do guys like this get into a trusted position to make decisions of this magnitude? I guess we are paying attention too late.
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Treegirl
It's really too bad that the MacMillan Bloedel company is no longer in exsitence having been sold off and changed hands several times. It was this company that not only helped build the infrastucture of BC but also whose onwers put money into a variety of parks around Vancouver (Bloedel Arboretum, Macmillan Convervatory, and yes even into Stanely Park inself.) as well as donated tracts of lands for parks throughout the Lower Mainland. Shake your heads people and get your priorities right. How about asking the public what they want!!!
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Alex Quadra
The readers may not be aware that this City Council has approved snow removal from bike lanes this winter. Conservatory loses / bikes win. This is what passes for sound fiscal management at this City Hall.
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Elisabeth Mason Wallace
On our recent Christmas visit to Vancouver, we were shocked to learn that the Conservatory is schedule to close in April 2010. My husband and I were married in the Conservatory on Dec. 4, 1993. We decided on this special place because it's a small piece of paradise in Vancouver. Being inside the dome makes one believe anything is possible and one cannot but be uplifted looking at the tropical plants, birds and fish. As we currently reside in San Francisco please let us know how we can assist in helping the Conservatory remain open. Are there petitions to sign or bank(s) honouring donations? Has anyone approached Jimmy Patterson, whom I had the pleasure to work with during Expo 86? I'm sure he would be opposed to the closure of such a beautiful Vancouver attraction. As I'm sure would recent Order of Canada recipient Michael Audain, philanthropist and businessman of Polygon Homes Ltd.
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Jyan Nath
It is totally unthinkable that the City of Vancouver would even remotely consider closing down its most precious treasure. The Conservatory is a landmark of great importance not only to Vancouverites but also to the rest of the Canadians and, of course, to all the tourists.

On any given cold, wet and dismal day one can go up there and find a warm welcome inside, see the tropical plants and hear the lttle birds. All this without having to pay for an expensive plane ticket.

The Little Mountain serves as the best spot to get a bird's eye view of the whole of Vancouver. It is a place for wedding parties to have their pictures taken. It is a place for seniors to stroll. It is great place for children to play. It is a peaceful place for early morning exercises, summer flowers and sitting in the sunshine away from the fumes of the traffic and noise.

Another treasure we have up there is the Henry Moore sculpture, The Knife's Edge, It is a rare interactive sculpture which the children can touch and feel. We need this sculpture to stay where it is today.

Please don't destroy the most precious gift given to us all by the Blodel family.
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Christy Gain
I live in Victoria, where the Crystal Garden, which was very much like the Conservatory only larger, with golden tamarinds, pink flamingos etc, was closed and turned into an enormous advertisement for tourist travel in BC.

I did not know about the Conservatory until my significant other, who lives in Vancouver, heard about it closing in the local paper. We visited it yesterday and that is an experience we would never have had otherwise. It was absolutely magical - the kind of thing that dreams are made of. The fact that it is affordable to low income earners like ourselves makes it one of the truly egalitarian experiences that our culture can be proud of.

I'm wondering if I should donate some of my savings to it? I recently dug up some savings to help save the local organic farm back in Victoria - Madrona Farm. Incidentally, more than 1.5 million has been raised by locals there to save that farm forever from development. Can it be done here? Should I donate?
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