The member of parliament may be changing, but the commitment to save the Col. James Layton Ralston Armoury in Amherst has not.
MP-elect Lenore Zann visited Amherst on Monday to meet with outgoing MP Bill Casey, Cumberland North Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin and representatives of a new society working to preserve the historic building that was the birthplace of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, but has been declared surplus by the Department of National Defence.
“I’m absolutely in favour of saving this building, it’s exactly what tourists want to come and see when they come to Nova Scotia and communities like Amherst,” Zann told the Amherst News after meeting with the committee. “I believe Nova Scotia is full of interesting historical stories that need to be preserved and they are much better served when you can actually see something.”
She said every effort needs to be done to protect important pieces of history like the armoury and she pledged to do everything she can as the new MP to preserve the building that is home to three cadet corps and the North Nova Scotia Regimental Museum.
The MP-elect pointed to the work done to save and repurpose the Truro Old Normal College as an example of what can be done with the armoury building. The old college, that trained teachers until 1961, was being considered for demolition. Now part of the building is the Truro branch of the Colchester-East Hants Public Library and the redevelopment of adjacent gardens have turned it into a landmark in downtown Truro.
Smith-McCrossin urged Zann to do what she can to help the process.
“This is a big passion for the community,” the MLA said. “We have been waiting two years for DND to get their assessment done. Now the election is over, maybe you can give them a little push.”
She said the presence of the cadets corps and the regimental museum is driving the community’s desire to preserve the building.
Retired Amherst lawyer Morris Haugg and a group of community members has come together to create a society to investigate preserving and repurposing the building that was built during the First World War.
“We had the idea that we should have a new independent non-profit society of interested persons who would ask the government to fund a study to see if the building could be used differently than for just military purposes,” Haugg said. “Within a couple of weeks we had about 30 people interested in that idea and we incorporated the society and called ourselves the Amherst Armouries Plus Society. With the word plus, the idea is it would more than the armouries, we would repurpose the building into something else.”
The society was formed in May with John Wales, the assistant curator of the regimental museum, as president.
Haugg said it needs funding so it can be determined if the building can be repurposed and to determine if there is any use of the building within the community.
The society can’t go any further without money and it needs access to the studies the federal government has done to date on cost estimates to repair the stonework at the front of the building or even what it costs to heat and power the building.
“If we get so far and the consultant says it can be done and used, then it’s a question of who would do the work? I may be idealistic, but one source of money would the government paying an equal amount to the society that it would pay to demolish the building, which is a lot more than people think,” Haugg said, adding the building is like a monument to some in the community.
If an independent consultant says the building can’t be preserved and repurposed, or if another use is found the society will accept it and move on.
With the election being over and a new government in place, Haugg said, the society wants government departments to know the society exists, has a workable plan if government is prepared to spend money to determine whether it is workable.
Casey, who has been working on the file for more than 10 years, said the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is interested in helping but it needs the assessment complete.
“If the assessment comes back and says the building needs $100,000 in repairs that’s one thing, but if it comes back and says it needs $4 million that’s something e.se,” he said, adding the environmental assessment is expected to be final phase of what has been a lengthy review by DND. “I believe the money will be there if the assessment is completed.”
Casey said July’s concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of the closing of the First World War Amherst internment camp shows the significance of the building as well as the memories of the 486 North Novies who didn’t return at the end of the Second World War.