The City of White Rock entertaining the idea of building pickleball courts in Maccaud Park has surfaced a 1968 handshake agreement between the city and the original owner of the property regarding a stipulation that the park to be left as a “passive” greenspace.
Council voted 6-1 at its March 8 regular meeting to further discuss potentially building pickleball courts in the park at a priorities session meeting. Coun. Christopher Trevelyan voted against.
A decision on whether or not to include pickleball courts in the park has not yet been made, nor has a decision been made on how many courts might be built.
The linear park, which runs adjacent to the historic Semiahmoo Trail, runs north of Thrift Avenue, along Kent Street, to North Bluff Road. The Kent Street Activity Centre is situated near the middle of the park.
According to the White Rock Museum archives, Irene Maccaud-Nelson, known by friends as Renee, sold the 3.5-acre property to the City of White Rock for $48,000 in 1968. The sale included a condition that Maccaud could live on the property until her death. She died 10 years later.
After learning the city was considering building pickleball courts in the park, former City of White Rock director of parks Doug Stone – who started working for the city in 1978 – contacted PAN about the agreement made with Maccaud-Nelson. He suggested PAN speak to former councillor and former chairman of the city’s parks committee Vin Coyne.
Coyne, who is the only living participant of the six-month negotiations to purchase the park in 1968, said a final meeting was held in Maccaud-Nelson’s house one August evening, and included former city solicitor Ken Thompson and former city chief administrative officer Tass Russell.
He confirmed that part of the negotiations included an agreement that the park would be kept in a “passive” state, with exception of the Kent Street Activity Centre.
“That was the understanding. It may not have been in the written formal agreement, but we made that pledge to Mrs. Maccaud at the time. I would be very disappointed to see pickleball courts, parking and so on, trees taken down to facilitate that. There must be other places we can do that type of thing,” Coyne said.
He said construction of pickleball courts would be an “invasion” of what was agreed upon, and would serve as a “terrible offence” to Maccaud’s memory to not comply with her wishes.
However, the City of White Rock says it has nothing in its written records that stipulates that the park be kept passive or strictly as a green space.
The city shared with PAN a 1979 agreement between the city and the executors of Maccaud’s will. The document formalized a transfer of the property to the city for $1.
“The land is conveyed to the corporation of the City of White Rock as a public park for the use and enjoyment of the public,” the agreement states.
Told of the written land transfer agreement, Coyne maintained that there was a stipulation to keep the park passive.
“It was a gentlemen’s agreement with a great lady,” Coyne said, noting Maccaud-Nelson “wasn’t a sports fan.”
“We agreed to that. We said, verbally, we will make sure that it stays mainly a passive green area for people to walk, enjoy, take their dogs. We gave her that. There was nothing officially put into any kind of transfer agreement, but that was what we committed at the time and council agreed to that.”
During the March 8 council meeting, councillors had several questions regarding the design of the pickleball courts, how many should be included, whether or not tennis courts should also be built, annual park maintenance cost, if trees would need to be cut down and if retaining walls would need to be built.
Staff told council that those questions are difficult to answer until the city proceeds “a little further” with the project.
The topic of Maccaud-Nelson’s reported agreement with the city was not specifically mentioned during the council meeting. However, Coun. Scott Kristjanson acknowledged “there’s lots of controversy” regarding what the city does with the park.
“But we also need to provide for our seniors,” Kristjanson said to council. “We don’t have a whole lot of facilities on the east end. It seems like a great location, right by the Kent activity centre, there’s already parking and washrooms there so that’s why I’m supporting this.”
It’s not the first time White Rock residents protested development in the park. In 1974, the White Rock Lawn Bowling Club attempted to build two pitches and a clubhouse on the property. That plan was protested by residents and the idea was eventually defeated.
History of Renee Maccaud-Nelson
In 2011, museum director Hugh Ellenwood, and his mother, former museum director Lorraine Ellenwood, published a biography on Maccaud-Nelson in the Peace Arch News.
In the biography, the Ellenwoods wrote that Maccaud-Nelson bought the property for $110 in 1935. After she ran into cash-flow problems in the 1960s, she sold the property to the city for $48,000.
The biography also indicates Maccaud-Nelson’s passion for protecting the environment.
“In 1971, she wrote, ‘It really is no laughing matter trying to organize a semblance of order among people who cannot grasp the urgency of doing something soon to preserve our natural environment. I’ve done my part severally: Maccaud Park, White Rock; a Gulf island (Rum Island, which she ceded to British Columbia),’” the biography read.
When Maccaud-Nelson purchased the property, it contained a small structure that is now part of urban legend in White Rock.
The structure was called the “Smuggler’s Shack.” When Maccaud-Nelson bought the land, she renovated and extended the shack, turning it into her home.
One rumour, which was penned in the Ellenwoods’ biography, was that the shack was used to shelter German spies during the First World War.
According to a White Rock Sun article published in 1968, the story concerns a German who was living in Vancouver. The German planned to use the shack as a means of escape for his fellow countrymen who had been engaged in espionage in Canada.
Another rumour is that the shack was used by rum-runners during the alcohol prohibition era.
The true purpose of the shack remains up for debate.
In an interview with PAN, Hugh Ellenwood said part of Maccaud-Nelson’s wishes was that her house be turned into a museum and her property become a city park after her death. However, he continued, the building was structurally unsound, so the city had to tear it down.
Maccaud-Nelson and her husband fancied themselves as antique collectors, the archives manager added. Part of her wish was that the contents of her house be sent to the White Rock Museum.
Stone said on the second day of his job as parks director, the city CAO at the time told him to visit the old house and deal with the contents.
“I went into this place and it was unbelievable,” Stone said. “There was all these works of art.”
Stone said the city hired an appraiser and sold some of the items in auction. The rest of the contents went to the museum.
“The city said (Maccaud-Nelson) wanted the contents of her house to go to the museum so that’s what’s going to happen,” Ellenwood said, adding that his mother was the museum’s curator at the time. “They literally brought everything to the museum. (Lorraine Ellenwood) said there were even bags of garbage that came to the museum.”
Most of Maccaud-Nelson’s collection included antiques from Asia. Dozens of her possessions are still at the museum today.
“There’s, if not hundreds, tens and tens of items in the museum’s collection, still.”