Gary Manuel stood in silence, listening to Delta Coun. Ian Paton speak about the statues and historic markers situated in the Huff Hydro Corridor Park Reserve. Paton handed him a large, wood-framed certificate: a Heritage Award of Merit for the beautification of Huff Corridor.
His was one of three projects to be honoured with the heritage award, the others being the restoration of the Niemetz Residence in Ladner and the Boundary Bay Airport Memorial Cenotaph and Air Cadet Commemorative Pathway Project.
Creating a public space out of the grassy strip of land beneath the power lines has been Manuel’s passion project for 34 years.
It started in 1983, two years after Manuel moved to the area, when Manuel and his neighbour Grant Baxter put in hedging and relocated a crosswalk to make it easier for residents to get to the area.
In 2003, Delta Parks, Recreation and Culture set out native plants in the corridor, but “when they weren’t playing with the ball anymore…Gary decided he’d take the ball into his own hands,” Manuel said, speaking about himself in the third person. “He wanted to probe to see whether contemplation and imagination had a place in park space.”
Posts put in to stop mowers from running over the park’s fledgling plants became “history-story holders.”
“Since posts can be imaginative in themselves, I could evolve the post,” he said.
He wanted poetic expression and artistic form to work through the posts and invite people to explore the history of Delta – like the oyster cannery marker (pictured), a concrete post he said was made to look like the dock with a lid that suggested it was also a shellfish.
But it’s not all about history.
He also asked locals if they would write a poem for the bulletin board, something of an “earworm” so residents could “start to explore the other side of the cultural background that’s not just history.”
The poem fell through, but there are other artistic works located throughout the corridor.
Manuel’s work hasn’t always been easy – he said he once went to four different municipal staff members to get gravel to create a better path in the corridor. (After talking to the director of parks, he did eventually get the gravel.) But he’s kept on pushing.
He’s had help from others to beautify and preserve the heritage of Huff Corridor but, he said, it has mostly been up to him.
“Sometimes I wonder whether I’m a grandfather to this cause, and whether when I disappear the whole thing disappears,” he laughed.
But he thinks maybe the Heritage Award of Merit given to him by the Delta council will help inspire people to take part in his ongoing project.
Manuel said that when he told his neighbour he was getting an award for his work in Huff Corridor, his neighbour said, “Gary, you’ll get the award, but you’ll not get a load of gravel.
“And I said…‘That’s the way it works.’”