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.”