Putting your best foot forward is always sound advice, and that’s precisely what the Town of Lake Cowichan hopes to do this summer when revamping the large sign welcoming visitors off of Highway 18.
The current sign features two large wooden black bears, perched atop either end of a large board or log that says “The Cowichan Lake Area.” Beneath that, in a flower bed, is a sign featuring the word WELCOME surrounded by the names of the four lake communities: Lake Cowichan, Mesachie Lake, Honeymoon Bay and Youbou.
Mayor Ross Forrest said like many residents who have grown attached to the current sign, he will be sad to see this one go but it was not a snap decision on the town’s part.
“It’s been in the works for a while,” he said. “The log that it’s on now has deteriorated to the point where it can’t be repair anymore. It’s rotting away. So we knew it has to be replaced.”
Last fall, the town tasked its advisory planning commission with overseeing the design of a new sign, one that would match the new signage and wayfinding initiative elsewhere in Lake Cowichan.
APC chairman Ross Fitzgerald said while developing cost estimates for the project, the commission learned the sign is covered in lead-based paint and therefore has to be taken apart according to WorkSafeBC guidelines.
“It [isn’t] just a matter of dismantling it,” he said.
The new sign will be made of the same black, powder-coated aluminum material as the sign outside the library or at Saywell Park. Fitzgerald said one comment raised repeatedly last fall at a public council meeting was the desire to see those wooden bear statues preserved and incorporated into the new sign.
“People appreciated that even though it was an iconic sign, it couldn’t last forever. It was, after all, made of wood. But they wanted somehow to retain those bears. So that’s what we worked on with our designer,” he said.
The entire structure (including the base of the sign) will be roughly 46 feet wide and 17 feet tall so that it can be viewed by drivers arriving at 80 km/h, with the phrase “Welcome to the Town of Lake Cowichan” at eye-level.
Underneath this will be the slogan “A Vibrant Community A Valued Environment,” a phrase derived from the vision statement in the town’s official community plan.
“What we wanted was to have what we felt was the essence of that statement incorporated into the sign,” said Fitzgerald, adding “environment” does not only refer to nature but also culture and community.
The total cost for the new sign will be approximately $45,000.
The APC had hoped to have it completed before Sunfest, however, after some delays the commission decided it would be better to hold off on changing the sign until after the country music festival, lest it be incomplete when so many people will be visiting the area for the first time.
“What we’d liked at the APC was to replace that sign with one that was in keeping with the transformation look we’re trying to create through town,” said Fitzgerald. “Eventually at least one more of the carved signs will likely be replaced with a similar place aluminum sign. And there’ll be a welcome sign at the west end of town as well.”
Fitzgerald said the APC would like to eventually see other carved signs around town — such as the cougar sign at Cowichan Lake and Neva roads — preserved in a secure place were the public can still view them, like the new town hall.
As for the new sign’s shift in focus from Cowichan Lake to Lake Cowichan, the mayor said there was no discussion about putting other communities’ names on it.
“This is being paid for by the town of Lake Cowichan,” said Forrest. “Nobody approached us about us putting their communities on.”