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Amherst Armouries Plus Society meets with military over Col. James Layton Ralston Armoury’s future

Ray Coulson, curator of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum, gives Major Jean Francois Robert, the G4 with the 36th Canadian Brigade, a tour of the museum on Dec. 3.
Ray Coulson, curator of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum, gives Major Jean Francois Robert, the G4 with the 36th Canadian Brigade, a tour of the museum on Dec. 3. - Darrell Cole

Amherst mayor, MLA and former MP send message about building’s importance to community

AMHERST, N.S. —

The group attempting to save the historic Col. James Layton Ralston Armoury from demolition are reassured the federal government isn’t in a hurry to destroy the building, but they’re taking nothing for granted.

Members of Amherst Armouries Plus Society, Amherst Mayor David Kogon, Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin and former Cumberland-Colchester MP Bill Casey met with Major Jean Francois Robert, the G4 with the 36th Canadian Brigade, on Dec. 3 to express concern the military may be moving to dispose of the building before the local committee can get the information it needs to make a decision on taking possession of the 114-year-old armoury that was the birthplace of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.

“I'm a little more optimistic now than I was before,” John Wales, assistant curator of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Memory club and Amherst Armouries Plus Society president, said following the meeting. “It seems like they’re taking a reasoned approach and the key word I got from the meeting was working as a team, which means keeping all the stakeholders appraised.”

What had the committee concerned was a series of emails it found leading its members to believe the 36 Canadian Brigade had decided to close the museum at the armoury and move its contents to the armoury in Springhill.

Major Robert was quick to give his reassurance the stakeholders would be involved and would receive lots of notice of any decisions.

Casey, who has worked diligently for years to repair the armoury and protect its future, said he wants to be reassured, but remains concerned because it’s a story that has taken so many twists and turns over the years.

“We’ve had so many changed decisions on this building,” said Casey, who attended the meeting on behalf of MP Lenore Zann who had to be in Ottawa for the opening of Parliament. “I appreciate that all levels of government were represented here today, plus the committee and people from all walks of life are sending a message to the military that this building is an important part of our community and we are not going to give up.”

Smith-McCrossin told Major Robert the community is passionate about the building because of its history and for the cadets.

“We don’t want to lose that. We know that if the cadet corps is moved to Springhill a lot of the cadets will drop out because they won’t have transportation,” she said. “We’ve already lost the militia from our community. If it were up to me, we would have DND have this as an active armoury. It’s frustrating when DND made the decision to divest this armoury and then invest $200 million for the Halifax armoury. We have just as much rich history here, if not more. Our community was upset when that decision was made. We represent the people of the community and we want to make it clear to DND that this building, the museum and the cadets need to stay active.”

The mayor urged the major as well as the decision-makers to give the local committee time to do its work to see if it can take possession of the building. He said it’s important for the federal government not to change the playing field.

“There’s a double-pronged attack here. One is getting the building from the military in useable condition and the other is being able to make it a fiscally sustainable building for use in the community and to maintain the history here in the museum and for the cadets,” Kogon said, adding the building and the museum are a memorial to the North Novies and the 486 men who lost their lives in the Second World War.

Kogon said he’s still hopeful there will be a good ending for the community, but he admitted that it’s important to remain vigilant. He knows the end result is the federal government is going to divest itself of the building.

“The important thing to us is allowing the time to get the studies done, for the committee to get its plan in order so we as a community can take this building over and have it continue to be part of our community,” Kogon said.

The committee is awaiting an assessment from the Department of National Defence that should give an idea of what it will cost to fix the building. Then it will know if it can take on the project or walk away knowing it did what it could to save the building.

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