New research into old artifacts changed Quesnel city council’s mind about where home should be for the Quesnel steam shovel and other items.
Three large industrial icons were addressed at the May 16 meeting of mayor and council – a special meeting called by mayor Ron Paull, since the trucking crew was ready to haul all three away from their spot at Lhtako Dene Park and deliver them to the community of Likely. Paull personally showed up at the park and asked the crew to stand down, since new information had come to light that might affect – and in fact did have a big impact – on council’s 2022 decision to send the pieces to the off-highway neighbouring community.
Council voted 4-3 (Paull cast the deciding vote, due to the initial tie among councillors) to keep the pieces in Quesnel.
All councillors expressed some form of displeasure at some element or other of the proceedings.
Some were upset that the information came so late and believed at least some of it could have been brought to council’s attention earlier.
Some were bothered by the unilateral overstep of power when Paull stopped the crew at the park.
There were expressions of shame that they were reneging on a deal made in good faith with Likely, and perhaps even grant money was now at stake because of the flip-flop.
It all happened because past accounts of the origin of the three pieces were recently debunked. It was clear from the discussion at the council table that, despite there being no such written wording, in 2022 when they made the decision to send the main item to Likely – an early 20th century steam shovel – it was believed that Quesnel came to possess it by unsavoury or unfair tactics. It came from mining operations in the early 1900s in Likely, that was not in dispute, so to balm an old misdeed, the councillors were sending it back to be good neighbours.
Paull received a slew of reports that in fact the steam shovel was very fairly donated to the City of Quesnel from interests in Likely, facilitated by the provincial government of the day (the mid-1980s).
He also received information the other two items in question, a steam boiler and pump, were never from Likely at all and in fact were used in 19th century mining operations at the mouth of the Quesnel River only a golf shot from where they stood in the park today.
One thing council was vehemently agreed on was the need to move the industrial items. The park has been dedicated to the Lhtako Dene Nation and these icons, although deserving of display for public appreciation and learning, were certainly out of place where they currently sit.
City manager Byron Johnson said the entire chain of sudden events was problematic, from a municipal management point of view.
“The day the contractor arrives to move the equipment, we’re faced with having a special council meeting to discuss it further. It puts us, from a staff perspective, in quite an awkward position. It almost ties your hands, for projects,” he said. “Our contractor was ready to move it last night, until the mayor showed up.”
The mayor acknowledged the discomfort of the 11th hour, but the information counteracting the old assumptions came in at a pace of its own, and he stressed one particular point, in the sharp, sometimes acrimonious discussion. “I did not go looking for information. The information came to me,” he said.
Councillor Scott Elliott asked a pragmatic question, once the new vote overturned the 2022 decision to haul the artifacts to the historic bullion pit site (already an interpretive attraction) about 90 minutes east into the Cariboo Mountains.
“I am curious, Mr. Mayor, are you going to communicate with Likely?,” to break the bad news to the interests there who were preparing to receive the equipment for display.
“Why should I do that?,” Paull responded. “That’s not my job.”
Councillor Laurey-Anne Roodenburg then interjected in surprise, “I respectfully disagree. Seeing as council has now decided not to move it, the mayor needs to politely let the community of Likely know of council’s change in plans. We can have staff help you design the letter, but it needs to come from you.”
“I fully appreciate that, but I have been in deep ka-ka and been accused of contacting people in Likely, and I’m reluctant to do that, now,” Paull said, then relented, “But I will do that one thing.”
(The ka-ka to which Paull referred was part of a tangential discussion about unnamed people from Quesnel being involved in bullying tactics towards unnamed people in Likely over these artifacts.)
“It’s part of being a mayor,” said Roodenburg.
“Excuse me, but did anyone accuse you of contacting Likely?,” Elliott asked. “Who accused you of contacting Likely?”
“Nobody at this table,” Paull responded.
“Then I agree with councillor Roodenburg. It is your job. You brought it forward.”
“I’ll be happy to do that,” said Paull. “The city manager and staff and I will talk that over. That’s not a big deal.”
The Observer was in brief contact with artifact receiving interests in Likely who promised to communicate fully once internal consultations were carried out.