Gabriola Commons free of mortgage

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, February 27 2018

Thirteen years after the property was purchased to form what Gabriolans now call The Commons, the Gabriola Commons Foundation held a mortgage burning on February 21, celebrating another historic accomplishment.

Despite an island-wide power-outage and almost a foot of snow on the ground in some places, people from the entire breadth of the Commons short history took part in recognizing the Commons being free of its mortage.

According to the Commons’ archives, in the late 1990’s, a core group of islanders tried to find the means to buy the “old goat farm” property for the community. But raising the financing proved an overwhelming challenge and the opportunity passed by.

When long-time Gabriolan, Jay Mussell discovered he had cancer, he and his family set up the Amazing Grace Ecological Society (AGES) to receive and manage his estate. When Jay died in September 2004, AGES became the owner of a number of assets in the form of real estate and mortgages. In 2005, the Commons property was listed for sale once again. That’s when AGES stepped in. Heide Brown, Shelagh Huston, and Jay’s son, Chris Mussell ‑ the directors of AGES - unanimously agreed that the goat farm/Gabriola Commons property, and the vision many community leaders have held for decades for its values and use, seemed the best way to carry out Jay’s vision of a peaceful and sustainable world, here in the community he loved so dearly.

In May 2005, risking much in personal guarantees to purchase the property, AGES bought the land with a major leading donation as down-payment. The plan was to buy the land and cover the mortgage for a period of time, and thereby give the community a chance to come up with a plan for realizing the dream and owning the property.

In early 2008, the Gabriola Commons Foundation was incorporated and took over the mortgage, at the time there was $460,000 still owing.

By that time, AGES had paid $219,000 towards the Commons mortgage as well as making an interest-only loan of $90,000 to the Commons, principal payable in future only when the Commons could afford to make payments. In addition, AGES directors used both AGES assets and their personal assets to guarantee the mortgage.

In 2010, the Islands Trust passed a historic re-zoning, making the Gabriola Commons Comprehensive Development Zone the only zoned property of it’s kind in Canada.

And now, as of 2018, the Gabriola Commons has paid off the entire mortgage.

K. Louise Vincent, representing the Trustees of the Commons, thanked everyone who came to the ceremony.

“As we stood on the traditional Snuneymuxw Territory we were reminded of all the gifts we inherit together from the land and had come to celebrate.”

Shelagh Houston and Heide Brown were honored for their original gift of securing the mortgage for the Gabriola Common’s Land. Many other generous donors inspired by their gifts were also thanked and remembered.

Vincent said, “the discharging of the mortgage is another layer of protection as significant as achieving the zoning to create a Community Commons reflective of community values and the imminent registration of a break through Covenant that will protect the land for future generations. 

“An ethics of cultural stewardship, local self determination and ecological resilience are part of a larger global resurgence of land within a stewardship model of governance.”

The Trustees said the three core components of the Commons: agricultural use, ecological protection and cultural benefits are reflected through rich and diverse uses of the land such as; green space and trails, a dynamic community kitchen, thriving community gardens, a wood working workshop and many more ongoing community driven projects.

Other recreational, cultural and social benefits continue to emerge. Waiting on the horizon are further exciting ideas and proposals such as the water stewardship enchancement system, the goat barn performance centre, a pond viewing platform and completing the timber frame sustainability centre. Vincent said, “The abundance of past gifts, those that continue to support the vision and the gifts to come will sustain the Commons in perpetuity.”