The Ladybird was presented as part of the Nelson Road Kings car show in 2016. Photo: Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History

Nelson council ponders displaying historic speedboat at Hall Street Pier

The Ladybird won a race in the Kootenay Lake Regatta eight times from the 1920s to 1940s

A speedboat that many consider to be an important part of Nelson’s heritage may be displayed as part of the city’s proposed Hall Street Pier project.

The Ladybird was built in 1922 by Bert Walton at Walton Boatworks and owned by Nelson barber Louis Gilbert. The 26-foot vessel, powered by a Liberty V-12 aircraft engine, began racing in the Kootenay Lake Regatta and won the 20-mile race eight times. It was dubbed The Speed Queen of Kootenay Lake.

Retired in 1966 after racing for over 30 years, the Ladybird was then donated to the old Nelson museum, which restored it using funds from the B.C. Heritage Trust.

“The Ladybird is a pivotal artifact from the sporting heritage in Nelson,” said Touchstones Museum executive director Astrid Heyerdahl in an email. “It is among the most famous motor boats ever to ply Kootenay Lake.

“The Ladybird, as with so many heritage objects held by the museum,” she wrote, “creates a direct connection to a time, to collective memories, and to an understanding of our past. As such, it is worth restoring, preserving, and displaying in the public sphere to educate and inspire.”

The restored Ladybird is in storage because it is too large to house at Touchstones.

The removal of the Ladybird from the former museum site on Anderson Street. Photo: Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History

The vessel could be permanently displayed in its own $426,000 temperature-controlled building as part of the city’s proposed Hall Street Pier project. That would be covered by a grant from the province’s Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program with a large amount left over to be used for other parts of the pier.

The $1-million grant, which the city has applied for but not yet received, is geared toward heritage projects and therefore depends on the Ladybird for its eligibility with the funder.

The city put forward the Hall Street Pier project last year as a largely grant-funded attempt to create shovel-ready capital projects to stimulate the economy during the pandemic, along with two other proposed projects that are still in the planning stages: a new library and changes to the Civic Theatre building.

At the Jan. 29 meeting, council discussed the cost of seven different options for the Hall Street Pier, each including or excluding certain components: replaced pilings, re-decked pier, floating docks, large canopy, small canopy, and a Ladybird display building.

Top: a drawing of the elements of the proposed Hall Street Pier showing the Ladybird pavilion on the far right. Bottom: proposed Ladybird pavilion on the left, with the first pier canopy on the right. Illustration: City of Nelson

Council did not decide which option to choose, opting to wait until it knows which grants are approved. But there was some discussion of the relative merits the inclusion of the Ladybird.

The city’s public works director Colin Innes explained that because the boat is a museum piece it will need an attractive structure to house it.

“It also has a huge security and mechanical component that adds to the cost,” he said. “It’s not just a box with some windows in it.”

Councillor Rik Logtenberg was skeptical of including the boat in the project, which he said did not add any value.

“I get that it is history, but it is a just a bloody boat, and I don’t know how interesting it is. You can go up to Baker Street and look at some old cars, it’s cool, but it gets old pretty fast. I don’t get it.”

The Ladybird in its heyday. Photo: Photo: Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History

Councillor Cal Renwick said that in the past he volunteered for Touchstones as a fundraiser for the storage of the Ladybird. The boat, he said, would be a tourism draw.

“It is part of our history, not much different than the streetcar other than it does not run on rails,” he said, adding, “when I first went to look at it I only saw the bow of it and I was very excited.”

Councilor Keith Page suggested that an extension of the Prestige building be created, adjacent to the pier site, to cut down on the expense of constructing and maintaining a self-contained building.

Councillor Jesse Woodward said the entire pier project with the Ladybird included would be a good combination of past and future for tourists and locals.

Logtenberg was not convinced, and said the city should not be chasing grants for projects that are already expensive.

Mayor John Dooley said the Ladybird was “outside the scope of the need to refurbish the pier, but we are looking at a more visionary way of working with that waterfront.

“With the Ladybird there is interest from the Lions Club to be involved and I am confident that a large portion of that $426,000 can be raised if the club was to come on board, or a community group of some kind. Our community has been known to raise lot more money than that if they are passionate about a project.”


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