Behind Roger Charles

Horticulture Centre aims to break ground on Mel Couvelier building

A greenhouse destroyed in a fire two years ago at the Horticulture Centre will rise again as the centerpiece Mel Couvelier Pavilion.

A greenhouse destroyed in a fire two years ago at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific will rise again as the centerpiece Mel Couvelier Pavilion.

The single-story, $1.5 million building is set to break ground this month after members of the non-profit garden and horticulture college voted to finance construction with a mortgage.

The pavilion is expected to give the 105-acre garden a constant stream of revenue through rentals from weddings and corporate meetings, fed from the nearby Vancouver Island Technology Park.

“This is intended to be the core income centre for the society,” said Roger Charles, executive director of the HCP, a.k.a. the Glendale Gardens. “After two years of sweating and hair pulling, we are thrilled to be in this position.”

What is now a large, fenced concrete slab held a large greenhouse, which burned in a spectacular fire on Feb. 16, 2011. Called the Glass House and donated by Saanich 33 years ago, it acted as a picturesque, although imperfect wedding venue.

“It wasn’t useful in the winter or the heat of the summer. You either baked or froze,” Charles remarked. “This (new) building will provide a very nice location for weddings, corporate meetings and social events.”

On Sunday, at what Charles reckoned was the best-attended society meeting in the HCP’s 35-year history, members overwhelmingly supported a plan to borrow $750,000 from VanCity. The remainder of the construction budget comes from insurance, a $250,000 loan from Saanich, and more than $300,000 from fundraising.

The timber-framed pavilion is planned as 3,000 square feet, with large south-facing windows and a ‘green’ roof. Construction is expect to last eight months.

The HCP’s business case estimates the pavilion will bring in about $225,000 per year and leave the society with a healthy income, while paying down the mortgage and repaying Saanich.

“We tend to be booked all summer for weddings. That was an important revenue source before the fire. Since then we’ve had to rent a tent,” Charles noted. “It’s necessary to replace what was lost with a long-term, reliable income stream. (The pavilion) would be a substantial improvement. With a 365-day operation, we’d get revenue even over Christmas.”

HCP is dedicating the pavilion to former Saanich mayor Mel Couvelier, who was instrumental in establishing the HCP society in 1979, securing Crown land, and then building the gardens in the 1980s. Couvelier worked to fundraise for the pavilion project up to the week before his death on May 30, 2011.

Although it tends to be overshadowed by the high-profile Butchart Gardens, HCP draws visitors to 10 acres of scenic demonstration gardens and 95 acres of native woodland, and is supported by more than a hundred volunteers, and houses an accredited horticultural college.

“We wouldn’t have the center without (Couvelier),” Charles said. “In honour of his enormous contribution, naming it after him is the right thing for us to do.”

The horticulture centre and gardens is at 505 Quayle Rd. See



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