LAUTENS: West Van gets a failing grade when it comes to using bequeathed land

North Vancouver’s Capilano University plans a satellite campus in Lower Lonsdale’s chic Shipyards. Great move, and a much-heightened public profile for Cap.

As well, Simon Fraser University is glorying in a glittering new Bing Thom-designed building on its Surrey campus for its sustainable energy engineering program.

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So where in the satellite campus world is West Vancouver – dynamic, exciting, progressive West Vancouver?  

Answer: 60 years ahead of these upstarts. But an idea whose time came, and went.

As if West Van town hall hasn’t blown enough hugely generous real estate bequests of its own – like once-thriving arts centre Klee Wyck, a gift of Dr. Evelyn Trapp and now a ruin, and Pearly and Noreen’s fine Brissenden property that they meant for a park but is currently in legal limbo over a development proposal – years ago the crass governors of the University of British Colum-bia short-sightedly sold off a verdant, tucked-away bequest that the owner meant the university to use “for work in fine arts, public affairs, and approved student activities.”

That owner was a supreme Vancouver renaissance man of his time: major-general Victor Odlum.

Odlum’s life was fabulous. Thrice-wounded, much-decorated soldier in two world wars. Brokerage co-founder (Odlum Brown). Vice-chair of CBC. Governor – here’s irony – of the selfsame UBC. Liberal MLA. Diplomat. And, possible blot on his escutcheon, a young reporter who became publisher of two Vancouver papers, the Star and the World.

But the only visible trace of Odlum’s ties with Rockwoods Estate is a street sign, easily missed by Marine Drive passersby, near the entrance to West Vancouver’s Whytecliff Park: Odlum Court.

The labyrinthine records of Rockwoods Estate, growing from Oldum’s first lot purchased in 1922 between Dufferin Avenue and Marine Drive, were gathered by WV archivist R.A. Harrison for a 1980 memo to municipal clerk J.D. Allan. For decades Odlum bought and sold more lots and conveyed some to his son, Victor E.C. Odlum.

In 1959 the rest, including four cottages and an eight-room house, was donated to UBC. Odlum died in 1971. Apparently UBC was puzzled about use for the property – West Vancouver Memorial Library’s Lynn Brockington has youthful memories of a pavilion built by UBC architecture students as a course project, when Rockwoods was something of a kids’ slightly naughty hangout (smoking!). In 1980 it was sold to Cressey Development Group for a reported $1 million. A bargoon, as they say.

Eve Lazarus, whose Murder by Milkshake is a bookstore hit, wrote about the property in 2015. She heard from Victor Odlum’s granddaughter Susan, who noted Rockwoods is now “high-end houses. Rather a shame. I spent many summers there.”

Wouldn’t Rockwoods have been ideal for a UBC academic retreat, distinguished visitors’ lodgings, public lecture rooms, or two or three satellite classrooms, bringing learning to backward West Vancouverites? Opportunities lost.

• • •

Surprise business sign in big letters recently wrapped around the top of the Sweeny building, Bellevue at 16th: “PHARMASAVE Opening Soon.” The first chain retail store on small-businesses Bellevue.

Bit of a low-street traffic location? Hmmm. Surely Pharmasave doesn’t have a premonition that the B-Line battering was just a tactical defeat, and TransLink has a future on Bellevue?

• • •

Jane Thornthwaite has a sound idea – so probably doomed. The Liberal MLA for North Vancouver-Seymour and Opposition critic for mental health and addictions filed a private members’ bill proposing that social assistance cheques be distributed throughout the month instead of all at once. Staggering them, one might avoid saying.

“In the days following the monthly distribution of income assistance cheques, first responders and medical services are overloaded,” Thornthwaite said in a press release. Her aim is to give front-line staff “some relief in the days after the cheques are distributed.” Makes sense.

• • •

The Theatre BC North Shore Zone Festival of Plays begins Monday (icebreaker party this Sunday) at Presentation House and runs until the following Saturday.

Anne Marsh, perennial publicist (and such a dear), tastefully has not unduly exploited interest in Colleen Brow’s Ten Tips for a Collapsed Uterus, staged Tuesday. “This solo show for all genders,” the promo states, “peers through a comedic bifocal lens to explore the trappings of middle age. Retirement communities, sex, Gwyneth Paltrow (damn her) and more. Come. Let’s be silly.” I’d go just to discover why damn Gwyneth Paltrow?

 A wild coincidence, but Ten Tips for a Collapsed Uterus will be followed by the fittingly suggestive Once Upon a Mattress, which opens (get this uterus out of your mind) May 16 at Presentation House, revived by the venerable North Shore Light Opera Society. The equally durable Nancy and Roger Nelson are associate producers while the NSLOS transitions to new leadership. The NSLOS claim – “We are the oldest continuously producing musical theatre company in British Columbia” – flourishes unchallenged.

• • •

In Ukraine, a comedian has become the country’s leader. Name two nations where it’s the other way around.

 rtlautens@gmail.com

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