Brian Antonson

Association members felt like they were ‘being fired’

District will allow parks maintenance deal with Mission Heritage Association to run out at end of the year.

Brian Antonson doesn’t understand why fundraising efforts for the new observatory at Fraser River Heritage Park have to be stopped.

The president of the Mission Heritage Association (MHA) isn’t sure if the district has the authority to halt volunteer efforts to finish construction of the facility.

The decree came as part of a letter informing the association that the District of Mission would not be renewing its maintenance agreement for Fraser River Heritage Park.

The association has been maintaining the park for the past 35 years.

While the letter says the agreement will be allowed to lapse, Antonson said members of the MHA feel like “we’re being fired.”

He explained that the district informed the MHA at the end of 2014 that it planned to end its agreement, but he saw it as the new council merely doing its due diligence. Antonson said he knew there had been some public complaints regarding the unfinished buildings – including the observatory – located in the park. However, he thought the agreement would likely be reworked.

Under the present contract, the AHA receives $155,000 from the district to maintain the park. The group also has a budget of $150,000 that it raised through various events, for an approximate annual budget of $305,000.

Antonson said it will cost much more for the district to pay staff to do the work his organization has been doing.

As for the observatory and other building projects, he doesn’t know what the council has planned.

Mission Mayor Randy Hawes told the Record that most of the buildings onsite are amenities needed in the park, but the observatory project is more like a commercial venture and the  operational costs would be funded by admission charges for school groups.

“We want to make sure a sound business plan is in place,” before going forward said Hawes.

Antonson said he had created a business plan for the observatory and sent it to the district.

But Hawes indicated he had no idea how much it would cost to operate the facility. That is one of many things that needs to be investigated by staff.

Hawes did estimate that it would cost about $300,000 to finish the observatory and make it operational.

“We have to take charge,” said Hawes. “It’s past time to have a full assessment on those buildings.”

He said he wants the public to be involved in any future discussions.

The move to end the contract with the MHA is part of a bigger parks plan, explained Hawes

“We have looked not only at Heritage Park, but all the parks in the district. We believe it’s time for a much broader governance structure that will cover all of our parks.”

Fraser River Heritage Park is the only park in the district that has a separate management contract. Hawes said it is time to design a new structure, whether it be an advisory committee, park board, friends of the park or some other form of governance.

Whichever new governance is eventually implemented, Hawes said one priority will remain the same.

“We intend to ensure that the park remains the jewel that we all think it should be and think it is.”

 

PARK HISTORY

Fraser River Heritage Park is a sprawling park overlooking Matsqui Prairie and the Fraser Valley. It is situated on the former site of St. Mary’s Mission and Residential School, founded by Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1861, and retains several heritage sites including the O.M.I. Cemetery and the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.

After the St. Mary’s school became derelict in the 1960s, the land became the property of the B.C. government and was slated for high-density housing.

The Mission Heritage Association was formed in 1979, and the founding president and honorary chairperson Norma Kenney stepped in to lobby the government for the site. The park was created from 44 acres of the original land in 1986, and the Mission Heritage Association continued to develop and promote the facilities.

Since 1986, the Norma Kenney House, Flag Plaza, Bell Tower, and Blackberry Kitchen restaurant have been built on the premises. Annual events include the Mission Folk Festival, Envision Twilight Concerts in the summer, and Old Car Sunday, and there are more throughout the year. Portions of the park are available to reserve for private functions.