Featured prominently in the movie ‘Man of Steel’ – and its theatrical trailer – the former St. Aidan’s on the Hill in Ucluelet has fallen on hard times and a protracted battle over its usefulness, but visiting retired city planners who happened upon it Monday had hope for the building and its weather-beaten, peeling-paint exterior.
Piet Rutgers, a retired city planner from Vancouver who now lives in Courtenay, has played tourist in Ucluelet a dozen times, and he’s fascinated by the 1950’s vintage structure.
“We were captured by the stained glass window – it would be nice to be able to see it, one way or the other,” he said, walking the building’s run-down exterior.
Rutgers was interested to hear of the tug-of-war over the property between investor Leif Hagar, and the District of Ucluelet and property inspectors still unconvinced of the structure’s service readiness. (See related story, Page 1) An old church, need for a new use – it’s not a new problem, Rutgers said.
“Hopefully some resolution can be found here that can preserve the heritage and put it to good use … the town of Ucluelet seems to be getting busier and busier, with more things to do for visitors and residents alike,” he said.
Dennis Attridge, a retired city planner from Folkstone in Kent, England, said finding a new use for old is a universal problem, seen all over the world – and certainly in his native Britain, where former churches are often repurposed as tourist centres or private homes or businesses.
“It’s a quest of resources, really, isn’t it? Of finding a use that will pay for the building’s upkeep and maintain its historic and architectural character,” he said.
“People’s needs change and the use of buildings have to change with them,” Attridge said.
“I think it requires some sort of bravery on the part of the original owners to concede that a new use is acceptable, and some sort of foresight in the community and the development industry to make it happen,” he said.