Architect reaches for local vision

World-renowned artists shares his vision for one of Terrace's most controversial properties

A world-famous architect touched down in Terrace last week to share his vision for Terrace’s former Co-op property.

Douglas Cardinal, who has worked on buildings internationally  alongside figures like former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, talked about what he would do if asked to design a building for the now-vacant Greig Ave. city-owned space.

Cardinal talked first with the city’s Co-op property task force and then with a room of more than 100 people who gathered at Northwest Community College’s Longhouse June 19.

The presentations talked about Cardinal’s creative process — about how he sees the Co-op property to be at the heart of the community — and why to design a building for the space, his process includes listening to and involving people.

“It’s not tokenism,” he said. “You have to be able to truly listen and incorporate their ideas and their mandates and agendas … to craft a vision that resonates with the people is extremely important.

“When you’re looking at planning any large building you have to look at the community … as a whole entire organism that works together,” he added.

Cardinal was invited by Sasa Loggin, who sits on the task-force as a representative from the Skeena Diversity Society.

“Sasa called the office and we were talking about the future planning and development of the area,” said Cardinal after the presentations. “If the people here would like me to work with them I’d be happy to.”

As Cardinal resides in the Ottawa, Ontario area, he said that he’s made a decided effort to spend more time out west where he can be closer to family as he grew up on this side of the country.

That mixed with his experience working in comparatively smaller communities was a draw for him to come here.

But should he be asked to build a building for the Co-op property, Cardinal said it would not be “his” building.

“I try to encourage people to realize they have the power … to make a difference,” he said, emphasizing the importance of working to achieve a vision that works for everyone.

And his words aren’t merely lip-service to an ideology — Cardinal has a proven track record of community involvement in buildings that serve many interests, not just his own vision.

An example of this is the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree village located in Quebec near James Bay.

“We were threatened and coerced into abandoning our village sites which were then bulldozed and destroyed,” said a historical summary on the Oujé-Bougoumou website, citing increasing industry interest in their traditional territory as the reason.

By 1992, after a decade-long fight involving various levels of government, the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree reached agreements with both Canada and Quebec which included paying for a new village to be built.

Cardinal designed the village and community members there were actively involved in the process.

“Throughout our planning and construction the community members have participated at every level of decision-making and direction-setting, from the expression of hopes, dreams and visions, to decisions on more technical matters involving the direction of basic construction issues,” said a story on the Oujé-Bougoumou website about the village.

The village was designed to incorporate  varying functions like “a source of learning, a source of spiritual renewal, a source of physical and economic sustenance, and a source for the healing of many wounds, both past and present.”

By the end of the process, this was achieved, said Cardinal to the task force.

And while developing the Co-op property would incorporate the same kind of involvement, it would be unique to the visions here, he said.

This would first take approval by council and money to hire him, said Loggin.

The purpose of forming the task force was to gather information about future land use and make a recommendation to council, she said.

“I think what we wanted was for the task force to hear him,” she said, adding that to have him build it “would be the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Given the history of the property, which was once as a bustling shopping centre owned by the Terrace Co-operative Association prior to its closure in the late 1990s following the downfall of the forest industry here, Loggin said that it is a place that is close to people in this community in different ways.

Having someone who knows how to listen and involve the community, incorporating various interests and visions in the process, would be a gift, she said.

“There is nobody better,” she said. “I know we kind of took a leap, but I’m convinced.”

One hurdle is money, she acknowledged.

“I always say money follows a good idea … because it’s viable,” said Cardinal.

Cardinal, born in Alberta in 1934, has designed buildings and won awards for his work internationally. His list includes buildings like the  Canadian Museum of Civilization and a building at the University of Saskatchewan.