“I had no intention of buying the place when I decided to go see the building…I just wanted to walk through it,” says Sharon Bandstra about 3504 Kalum – a quaint blue building located next to the Terrace Health Unit.
When she walked through the building, she could see the embodiment of the vision she had for that building: a homey place the community could use to have meaningful connections with each other.
“I could just see it,” she said about the building which is currently being renovated to accommodate that vision which includes hosting the Terrace Church’s Food Bank next month onward.
Seated at a table, next to tall windows overlooking the main road, Sharon explains how it all started after her best friend Debbie Koeker showed her the building last year.
With freshly painted walls in warm shades, the place is inviting and the high ceiling with black beams gives it an almost rustic-meets-industrial vibe. Lounge chairs are on their way and a modular coffee bar is in the process of being set up. The lounge area leads to two rooms that can be used as meeting spaces. Another space in the building is being developed into a commercial kitchen.
Sharon and her husband Sid bought the building in October last year from its owner Neil Courtney. Courtney had purchased the place from Giannino Pretto, whom long term Terrace residents still remember for winning a David vs Goliath fight against Oil & Gas giant Shell Canada.
Gino owned and operated the building as a Shell gas station and a convenience store starting 1982. He got into a settlement argument with Shell, when he sought retirement in the early 2000’s and found his buy-out value affected by land contamination.
Ultimately, backed with the full strength of the community, which included public protests, a letter writing campaign to the oil company and several newspaper stories, Gino triumphed.
In some way, given the building’s history, it all seems to have come a full circle. “It’s almost like the building was built for this very purpose of giving back to the community,” Bandstra said.
For Sid and Sharon, purchasing the property was not an impulsive decision, but rather it was more of a cosmic line up of events that convicted them to buy it.
For one, when Sharon first saw the place, it was already in the process of being sold to somebody. But the deal fell through, making way for the Bandstras.
“I had faith that if God wanted us to have it, we would have it,” said Sharon.
With their family business, Bandstra Transportation Systems, having started in northwest B.C., Sharon and Sid have lived and raised their family in Terrace since 1994.
“The community is like home to me,” says Sharon who over the years has volunteered with multiple groups, churches and soup kitchens in the area.
In fact one of her earliest influences, that helped shaped her vision for this building, was a food program she volunteered with called Field of Faith. A small group of volunteers would take soup to George Little Park and connect with people who would come over to share a meal.
“What they were seeing through this program was, it was not just about feeding people but about the connections and that actually helped some people get through treatments for alcoholism, addictions etcetera,” she said.
She soon learnt, in some ways, the community can best help people by just sitting down and listening to them. A conviction was forming in her mind, and this happened to coincide with the rising wave of Terrace’s social issues.
In August last year, she attended the city’s virtual town hall meeting where residents and business owners were voicing concerns about how they were increasingly affected by rising homelessness, addictions and crime in the downtown core.
“I heard Carol [LeClerc, Terrace mayor] say, ‘we’re looking for solutions’ and Ellis Ross [Skeena BC Liberal MLA] say that these people on the streets are humans, mothers, brothers, your friends.”
That convinced her.
“I do see them as family, when we’re living in this community as family… and family needs to take care of each other.”
Despite fear of failure and knowing fully well that this was unlike any project they had undertaken before, Sharon decided to go ahead knowing that Sid and she were in a position to be part of the solution.
“Everybody has a different part in this story, our part of the story is that we could do this and buy the building. And if we could, we needed to step up.”
Many businesses in town came forward and helped with the renovation work, including donating the flooring, helping with painting, carpentry, interior work and more.
It’s easy for people to point fingers at authorities when there’s a problem, but if members of the society can step up and be part of a solution, it can do wonders, she said.
In the coming weeks, she will be discussing a potential name for the building with stakeholders. (Her children and family have fondly nicknamed the building as ‘grandma’s garage’).
Sharon has also held discussions with most social agencies in town as to how they might best use the space for their programs moving forward.