By Marcel Tetrault, Comox Valley Echo – Published: Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The discovery of a $3 million pot of cash will finally allow the long-awaited North Island Discovery Centre to be built. Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan announced the federal contribution to the project today (Tuesday) in Cumberland. “This has been a hard slog,” said Duncan. “There’s a long history to this project. It’s not only a great project for the Comox Valley, it’s actually good for the entire riding. “This is the big one.” Politicians across the North Island have been pressing for a tourism and information centre at the Comox Valley interchange on the Inland Island Highway ever since the new highway was first announced more than 20 years ago.

Duncan said the Inland Island Highway has changed the “dynamics” of the North Island and the Courtenay-Cumberland interchange has become an important geographic location. “This discovery centre … will really channel and funnel and provide options for people in a focused way,” said Duncan. “It will mean that visitors spend a lot more time here and the time they spend here is more interesting. “That’s obviously going to be very good for all of the communities.”

According to a 2007 presentation by economic development officer John Watson, the timber-frame structure would be set up as a series of buildings with the form and character of mining camps to reflect the economic history that drove early growth in the region. The centre could include a building to showcase local industries, a main exhibit gallery that provides information on local ecology and resources, another building to showcase First Nations culture and more. Outdoor courtyards with raised walkways are envisioned as well as interactive displays.

“Every aspect of tourism will be covered, right from our water sports, our terrestrial sports below the snowline, our mountain events and our marine stuff,” said Duncan. “There are just so many things to do. “People should be left with the thought that they’re really going to have to pick and choose, as opposed to grappling with how they’re going to spend their day.” Duncan said the discovery centre would be developed in a modular way, with the capability to expand and grow into the future. While a construction start date has not yet been set, Duncan said the project has to be substantially complete by March of next year, so work will have to start soon. The project is expected to be built on part of the Trilogy lands at the interchange. “It will be a Crown jewel for the Comox Valley and the North Island,” said Duncan.

The discovery centre, projected in December 2007 to cost about $5 million, also has a $750,000 funding commitment from Island Coastal Economic Trust and another $600,000 from the three local municipalities. In December of 2005, the centre was projected to cost $2.49 million.

© Comox Valley Echo 2010

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