The colours of the seats in the Nelson arena were chosen to reflect the autumn colours on Elephant Mountain. Photo: Submitted

The colours of the seats in the Nelson arena were chosen to reflect the autumn colours on Elephant Mountain. Photo: Submitted

COLUMN: Finding fall colours in the past and present of Nelson’s facilities

Donna Macdonald writes about a historic civic decision in 2003

by Donna Macdonald

Winter has fallen upon us quickly, and bright autumn shades are yielding to the muted tones of November. If you miss looking across at the display of colours on Elephant Mountain, I can suggest a possible substitute.

First we go back to Oct. 18, 2003. On that momentous day, Nelson and area voters approved the borrowing of $10.3 million to build a new multi-use arena and upgrade the aquatic and fitness centre. Linked to that project was a new museum, art gallery and archives.

For many years the community knew our beautiful old Civic Centre couldn’t meet the needs of current ice users, and the popular swimming pool, built in the mid-1970s, needed upgrading. We also knew the Nelson Museum wasn’t adequate to support and demonstrate our cultural life, our arts and heritage. A prominent downtown location and more space for exhibitions and collections were needed.

You can begin to see the complexity of achieving all of this, with taxpayer support. The fear of scarcity led to a competitive environment. Sports vs. Arts. Previous referenda to fix or replace the Civic Centre had failed, and I think part of the reason was the competitive tension. If they get a new rink, will we ever get a new museum?

Following a failed 2001 referendum, a group of eight residents from the city and Areas E and F formed the independent Facilities Planning Committee, chaired by Tom Hierck. All volunteers, they carried out an outstanding consultation process, paying for it with community donations. They understood three projects were on the table, and considered them all carefully. The committee also embodied the need for a regional approach; only three of them lived in the city.

In January 2003, the committee released their report and recommendations. A few months later, the city responded, supporting the $3 million needed for the pool and $7 million for a new multi-use arena, and proposing how to also achieve the third project. City Hall would move to a new location, making room for the museum/gallery, and it would all be financed in creative ways to minimize the tax impact. As the city’s director on the RDCK, I was giddy with excitement, and apprehension.

More public meetings were held to explain this rather complex plan. I particularly remember a meeting at the Hume Hotel. As staff were presenting information, an attendee jumped up and yelled: “We don’t want information, we just want to vote!” Yikes. Other people said: “City Hall is City Hall; you can’t move it!”

On voting day in October, 65 per cent of eligible voters said “Yes.” It was made clear that the cultural facilities would not proceed without the recreational ones. Mutual support won out, and the sports-arts battle faded.

After the referendum, an enlarged committee began detailed planning. From big decisions like rink size (NHL or Olympic), to smaller ones like the type of showers for the women’s change rooms. And, of course, colour schemes.

It was a hair-pulling slog at times, trying to make decisions by committee. But I fondly remember the autumn day we were meeting in the RDCK board room on Lakeside Drive, trying to decide on the seat colours for the arena. Finally, our architect gazed out the window at Elephant Mountain, and said: “How about that?” Oh!

And so the arena seating re-creates the fall landscape on the Elephant. Greens and scattered grays in the lower seats give way to increasing golds and grays above, just the way the leaves gradually turn amidst the rocks. And, bonus, those unique colours complement the Nelson Leafs’ jerseys.

Take a walk around the concourse and enjoy the display. Take a seat and thank the many people who worked so hard to achieve these facilities that enrich Nelson and keep it colourful, all year round.

Donna Macdonald has lived in Nelson since 1972, and is the author of Surviving City Hall, a memoir of her 19 years on Nelson City Council. Her column appears monthly.