When Vancouver hosted Expo ’86, British Columbia constructed a pavillion to represent the province to the world. The “Folklife Village” was concieved and built to show off some of BC’s fine timber and no expense was spared to put together a masterpiece of post-and-beam construction. The architect was flown over the forests of BC to personally pick the trees to be cut to make the largest of the beams that support the unique structure. The ‘village’ created at Expo included two main components - the best of which is now the centerpiece of the village of Gabriola.
After Expo ended, the folklife village pavilion was sold, dismantled, and barged off into storage. It next appeared a couple of years later in drawings at an Island’s Trust meeting on Gabriola. An artists rendering of the village – shown nestled in the trees at the intersection of North Road and Lochinvar Lane was presented, along with a proposal to rezone the land from rural/residential to commercial.
Naturally there was dissent, but the Trustees of the day saw the opportunity have a beautifully designed and constructed commercial center – right there in what was already becoming ’downtown’. The existing commercial architecture was less than inspiring. The local restaurant – ‘D’Pizza’ (now ‘Roberts Place’ ) – was in a house that had been expanded, and the cement block strip-mall-gone-sideways that wanted to be ‘Gabriola Center’, didn’t have much style at all. Here was a rare chance to have an expensive post and beam showcase as a focus for Gabriola’s commercial core. At the time, given the population on the island, that type of architecturally designed commercial construction was unaffordable, since there were not enough prospective tenants with enough hope of making the rent required to pay for it. It was only because the ’used’ structure was sold at such a bargain that the developer could afford to put the project together. The other factor that made it work was the timing. The island’s growth was at a point where there was a demand for more local services and therefore more commercial space. It certainly took courage - and a big mortgage no doubt - to take it on. The owner of the land offered the community a portion of the acreage as ‘park’, and the deal was soon done despite the omnipresent opposition.
The project to reconstruct the ‘folklife pavillion’ took about two years. The site was prepared and the barges landed in Descanso Bay. It took at least 20 huge truck-loads – winding along some pretty narrow stretches of road – to get the huge timbers and accessories to the property. Putting it all back together – adapted for commercial use and able to pass local building codes – was no mean feat. It was the work of Bill Kristofferson – who had worked on major parts of the original construction, and Jay Friesen – with hands- on experience in post and beam construction and things architectural, that managed to get the giant puzzle back together.
The first tenants included the grocery store, a real estate office, and the fashion boutique. Within a few months ‘Folklife Village’ was pretty well fully leased and soon fulfilled it’s promise to focus commerce in the village, and set the bar high for future developers.