Rick Hyne, operating officer with Crankshaw Holdings, stands beside three murals painted on the foundation of the old Jean Burns Building by Toronto-based artist Victor Fraser. The murals are water-based and will eventually wash off. (Nicholas Pescod/NEWS BULLETIN)

Three murals add colour to empty Jean Burns building site

Long-term future of downtown Nanaimo property remains unclear

A gaping hole in downtown Nanaimo looks a little bit prettier, at least for now.

Victor Fraser, a well-known street artist from Toronto, has painted three First Nations art-inspired murals on the foundation of the old Jean Burns building at the corner Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue. The murals depict a maple leaf, a raven and an orca.

Rick Hyne, operating officer for site owner Crankshaw Holdings, said Fraser reached out to him last week. He said the murals are water-based and will wash off over time, but that he wants to preserve them somehow.

“We’ve thought about putting some kind of coating over them to protect them but I don’t know if we can do that because they are water-based and I don’t know what would happen to the paint,” he said.

The murals come months after Hyne had hoped the site could be used as a community space for events or as a storage space following cleanup in March that saw the removal of concrete overhangs and other debris from the property. However, those plans were never realized.

“We kept asking the city and they never got back to us,” Hyne said.

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The 100-year-old Jean Burns building was largely destroyed by a fire in 2016. The building was completely demolished and the site is now just a large hole with a concrete foundation in the city’s downtown.

Hyne said the next step for Crankshaw is to determine the property’s value, which can only be done after environmental assessments and geotechnical work has been completed.

“We need to take steps to value the site and to do that we need to eliminate all the unknowns,” Hyne said. “Those unknowns include figuring out what is underground.”

There are a couple of tanks currently under the foundation of the building, but Hyne said isn’t entirely sure what they were used for. He also said during the demolition of the building in March, crews discovered coal slag where Acme Foods once stood.

“Is there a mineshaft down there? We don’t know,” he said. “It doesn’t show up on any maps, but we think it is close by.”

Environmental and geotechnical work is expected to take place in the fall. The work should identify what is underground, any environmental issues, associated costs, and what, if anything, can be built on the site.

Knowing the property’s value will determine what Crankshaw Holdings does with it, said Hyne.

“Once we can identify the risks, then we will have an understanding of what it is going to cost to mitigate those risks. Then once we know those costs, we can determine what the value of the property is,” Hyne said. “From there, we can decide whether we want to sell it, keep it or build on it, or what we are going to do with it.”

Cleanup has cost Crankshaw Holdings nearly $1 million so far, according to Hyne. He said it’s been a long process and that it isn’t as simple as filling a hole with dirt and building on it.

“You can’t build until you drill and you can’t drill until you do an environmental study. Not everyone understands that,” Hyne said.

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In the "spirit of our land" I present to all the Beaver in the Haida style representing Earth in the city of Nanaimo. . The "hole" as it's referred to in Nanaimo has been here for some time now. It is in the centre of town & has been a point of contention for many for some time now. . On my 3rd & not final visit it was deeply important to me to finally be able to contribute. Thank you @dj_jacky_dee for bringing me to this part of Canada. . . I am so glad to have had the weather window to give the wonderful folk of Nanaimo (and guest's) something else to look at for a time. . . Special thanks to @vaultcafe for water kindness & yummie human made delights. . I can't help but wish I had just one more day. .. . Time to push back to the @nba 2019 CHAMPIONSHIP City @cityofto to enjoy some more summertime @aircanada have that printer ready! #howdowespendourtime #spiritofourland #inspired #haida #nanaimo #westcoast #vancouverisland #love #healing #respect #firstnations #beaver #raven #orca #islandlife #whatsvictorupto #nativestyle #haidaart #cityofnanaimo #freehand #earth

A post shared by VicTOr (@whatsvictorupto) on

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