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Beban Park barns condemned, but VIEX summer fair in Nanaimo is still a go

Fair’s request to move to Nanoose Bay denied by Agricultural Land Commission
Barns at the Vancouver Island Exhibition site at Beban Park in Nanaimo are unsafe and unsuitable to be used at this summer’s fair. (News Bulletin file photo)

Plans for Nanaimo’s summer fair are being reconfigured as barns on the fairground have been deemed unsafe.

The Vancouver Island Exhibition is happening Aug. 25-27 at the Beban Park fairgrounds.

On Monday, July 10, the VIEX released a statement saying that all five of the barns at the Beban Park site are not safe for public use. As a result, livestock will be moved elsewhere at the park and the home arts exhibition will be virtual.

Michelle Solloway, VIEX spokesperson, told the News Bulletin that the City of Nanaimo requested the non-profit organization hire an engineer to examine the structures. It was deemed they are not in good shape, with 70 years of wear and tear and the back corner of one of the barns sinking into the ground.

“We did home arts online a few times through the pandemic, but people were really excited to have it back in person last year…” Solloway said. “In the Centennial Building, we will have the poultry, the rabbits, smaller animals that we can put up on tables. Then down on the grounds, we’ve got some big tents for our goats and sheep, and the bigger animals. And we actually have lots of horses coming back this year, so that’s exciting.”

The non-profit organization ultimately seeks an agricultural centre at Beban Park, anticipated to cost $6 million, and Solloway said plans to raise money are being developed.

“We’re going to get through this year and then we’ve really got to sit down and figure out our options,” she said. “There’s not really anywhere else to go. There’s no other options on the table. So I think [next steps include] figuring out getting the barns down and how we’re going to deal with that and probably some negotiations with the city on timelines.”

Solloway said whether Beban Park is a viable site for future fairs is a tricky question.

“If we were to able to rebuild some facilities, I think we can make it work there … I know a couple times we’ve used the soccer field, but that’s not always available. The buildings aren’t always available. It’s really just a matter of space availability,” she said.

Richard Harding, the city’s parks, recreation and culture general manager, said barn evaluation is part of VIEX’s lease.

“They have to ensure that they’re safe for occupancy,” he said. “Every two years, if they haven’t been removed, then we make sure that they show that they’re safe for occupancy, because it’s no secret that those barns have been in poor shape for many years.”

An Agricultural Land Commission application that would have relocated the VIEX to Nanoose Bay’s Arbutus Meadows was denied, citing the scale of commercial use on agricultural land, a decision Solloway said she didn’t agree with. The non-profit has a year to appeal to the ALC.

“It seems unfair considering we’re a three-day event … the rest of the year it’s all agricultural,” Solloway said.

Harding said the city would work with VIEX should they want a new agricultural centre, and previously paid for a feasibility study.

“Who knows if $6 million is even the costing given the escalations,” said Harding. “It’s their proposal … So we work with them, if they want to modify it, we can modify it. I’m not sure where they’re at with that. We need to sit down again with them if they’re going to focus on that.”

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RELATED: Application would allow VIEX to relocate to Nanoose Bay

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

After interning at Vancouver Metro free daily newspaper, I joined Black Press in 2010.
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