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North Shore Rescue opens new Capilano Gate search station

One donor agreed to cover the cost of the critical new rescue facility that will act as the home base for many searches in West Vancouver and North Van

It’s the base from which North Shore Rescue launches well over half of their missions into the mountains, but until now, the Capilano Gate search and rescue station has never been more than two shipping containers and a porta-potty.

The team, joined by more than 100 members, dignitaries and supporters, gathered at the edge of Capilano Lake on Saturday to open their brand new rescue outpost.

Beyond a space for search managers to co-ordinate teams on the ground and in the air, the new 2,400-square-foot, purpose-built facility offers the volunteers temperature-controlled storage for their sensitive medical equipment, a space for team members to speak quietly to the family members of the folks they are searching for, and shower and laundry facilities so volunteers can clean up after facing a rescue in the elements.

“We have a washroom with a flushing toilet and a sink,” said team leader Mike Danks, genuinely enthused. “It’s like coming back to a home. Firefighters have a firehouse. This is really our search and rescue house if you want to put it that way.… All of these things really work to streamline our response.”

The SAR station sits on land owned by Metro Vancouver but there was never anything more than a “handshake agreement” allowing them to stay there, Danks said. When Metro began a substantial renovation on the water infrastructure at the site in 2017, it looked like North Shore Rescue would be told to find a new home.

But Danks said in a series of meetings with Metro staff and leadership, they were able to persuade the regional authority of the wisdom of keeping the rescue base next to the lake.

“Approximately 65 per cent of our calls are based out of Cap Gate, especially our helicopter responses. It gives us very quick access to the western side of our operational area. And it also provides us the easiest access to mitigate traffic on the North Shore. It’s an easy spot to get to,” he said.

It was around the time that NSR was in discussion with Metro that Arnold Wallner, a West Vancouver entrepreneur and philanthropist, left his business card in the door at the Tim Jones Rescue Centre, the team’s main base on Bewicke Avenue.

In addition to finding success in business in both Canada and his native Germany, Wallner spent 25 years as a volunteer firefighter. As he was reaching his mid-80s, Wallner and his wife started thinking about a legacy they could leave on the North Shore, the place where they’ve lived and enjoyed nature.

In 2018, Wallner agreed to fund the rescue station and today, it bears his name.

“I’ve received a lot in return,” Wallner said.

Architect Nick Bray designed the building to reflect the Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn (Twin Sisters), also known as the Lions, that tower over the lake.

“He turned it into a piece of artwork that blended in with the park,” Danks said.

Danks said the team quite literally put blood, sweat and tears into the new base. Longtime NSR volunteer Don Jardine was on-site managing the project every day through years of construction, and life member Peter Haigh broke his leg in an incident on the site.

At the grand opening on Saturday, they hadn’t even made it through the speeches before the new base was put to the test. The team and helicopter were called out not once but twice for life-and-death emergencies, putting the ceremony on hold.

“It was in the middle of my presentation,” Wallner said. “It fills me with pride – pride that it was put directly into action.”

On hand for the event was the Bergwacht mountain rescue team from Wallner’s hometown of Oberau, Germany, which is now North Shore Rescue’s sister team, thanks to Wallner’s donations.

Like all recent construction projects, the costs skyrocketed, which Wallner graciously helped cover.

Wallner said he was struck by the way the team has embraced him and his wife, counting them now among their friends. Wallner said he has no regrets.

“This is something which is not for me. It is not for the team alone. It is for the whole community,” he said. “I really have been thankful for what I could have accomplished with this building. This fulfils me, really. I’m full of thankfulness and happiness in my head and in my soul, in my heart.”

It’s a kind of fulfilment that someone else in the community may be in line for as North Shore Rescue is now in talks with Metro Vancouver to replace their Bone Creek search and rescue station, which is used for all of the team’s calls on Mount Seymour.

“It’s a big challenge for us,” Danks said. “That station is in dire need of replacement.”

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