Friede Dunfield loved to stroll along the seawall at Qualicum Beach, stop for a rest on a bench and look at the beauty of the ocean in front of her.
After her passing, her children honoured her memory by buying one of those benches and a plaque engraved with her name that also said: “Mom and best friend, you will always be with us.”
The family bought the bench for $450 in 2002. They learned earlier this year from the town the bench is no longer safe, needs to be replaced and if the Dunfields want to renew, it will cost $1,800.
Friede’s son Peter Dunfield doesn’t believe it would take much to get the bench safe and better looking.
“I think 10 minutes of sanding and couple of coats of varnish would do it,” said Peter. “That’s ridiculous to say it’s no longer viable so they (the town) can take it out and re-sell it for $1,800. I think it’s really disrespectful of people who have purchased the benches as memorials.”
The policy regarding these benches has changed a few times over the years. A walk along the seawall reveals benches in all sorts of stages, some looking pretty rough, others brand new. Many have memorial plaques, some have clearly had the plaques removed.
“If the original purchasers don’t wish to remove them, we remove the plaques,” explained Qualicum Beach town planner Luke Sales. “It’s just not realistic to maintain (the benches) forever.”
The town’s policies — both old and new — make reference to the town maintaining the benches for a period of time, but none of the policies say it’s a forever agreement.
Sales said he isn’t unsympathetic, and he agrees with the Dunfields that their bench isn’t exactly falling apart.
“If it was at my house, yes (it would be fine), but the town has different standards,” he said. “We’re trying to find a way to balance our high maintenance standards with the expectations of bench purchasers who purchased under previous arrangements.”
Peter isn’t sure exactly what the family will decide to do with the bench. The town has offered the bench to the family and Peter said it might end up in the backyard of one of the children. If they want to keep a plaque on a bench on the seawall, the town says the family will have to pay $1,800 for an eight-year agreement.
Peter has a suggestion for the town: “If they are going to change the policy so you can only rent the plaque for a period of time, do it in a way that allows for multiple plaques (on each bench).”