Presentation to the Mayor and Council, Town of Kentville
By Jay Underwood, President
Nova Scotia Railway Heritage Society
On behalf of the Roundhouse Action Group
June 13, 2007
Ladies and gentlemen I thank you for the opportunity to appear tonight and address you on the issue of whether or not the Town of Kentville should demolish the historic former Dominion Atlantic Railway roundhouse.
I did not come here tonight to propose terms or to discuss a timetable for preserving this building. There are experts who attended the tour on Friday who are willing to assist you, at no cost to the town.
But you have a choice to make. Do you avail yourselves of these services, or continue with a plan that will have long-term consequences on the quality of life in Kentville?
It this very question that makes Kentville a town of contradictions. On his website page welcoming internet visitors to your community, your mayor makes note that Kentville is an historic town, and yet tonight you are prepared to condemn one of the most unique and historic buildings anywhere in this province.
The government of Nova Scotia has begun marketing the province in both print media, television and on the internet as a place where citizens "embrace history." Should they add the rejoinder "Except Kentville"?
You may see before you an "outsider;" someone who does not live in Kentville, yet dares to question the ambitions this council has for its citizens, and I am sure there may be some resentment towards my interference.
But has Kentville not always welcomed "outsiders"? I offer no apologies for my intrusion into your business, for I feel as a Nova Scotian, that the roundhouse is part of Nova Scotia's heritage, and that all Nova Scotians should contribute towards its preservation and restoration.
This is the last building of its kind in this province. As a railway historian, to my mind it ranks in importance with Halifax's town clock, Prince's Lodge and Cape Breton's Fortress Louisbourg
What I hope to accomplish tonight is to persuade council to reconsider the apparent haste of its plan to demolish the building, until a full and complete assessment of the cost of its restoration and incorporation into the town's development plans can be conducted.
To date the only information we have been able to gather from the town: That it will cost $1.5 million to bring the building up to "warehouse" standards, given a 30 per cent variance either way, is indicative that attention has not been paid to these details.
I would also like to present council with a petition signed by residents of Kentville and concerned individuals from across and outside of Nova Scotia, who believe the building should be preserved.
Of significant note within this petition, I believe, are the signatures of those persons who live in the town of Truro, Nova Scotia.
A little more than thirty years ago, the town of Truro made a decision to demolish the sandstone railway station built in that town in 1915. What replaced it is a mall that can truly be described as an "ugly" building; one in which the citizens of that town take no pride and pay no particular interest.
People in Truro today still recall that decision with a lasting resentment and sense of loss. Does this council wish to leave that same legacy to the people of Kentville?
Since we placed the petition on-line on the Nova Scotia Railway Heritage Society website, many more names from well beyond Nova Scotia have been added to the groundswell of support to save the building. Surely those signatures – signifying interest in the building from "outsiders" – are an indication of the tourist value of the structure?
From a personal point of view, as publisher of the community newspaper in Springhill Nova Scotia almost twenty years ago, I can attest to the valuable contribution that saving "ugly" abandoned buildings can make to a community.
In search of a building of our own, we decided to purchase and renovate the old Imperial Bank of Commerce on Springhill's main street, that had stood vacant for years.
The exterior damage was superficial, the interior damage was considerable, but with determination, and an investment that emphasized our belief in the vitality of the town, that building stands today as remarkable sight within the heart of Springhill.
In the municipality of East Hants – where I now live – more than eighteen years ago, a decision was made to preserve the brick 1920s-era railway station and it was renovated and used as a local library.
This required extensive renovations to both the exterior and interior of a structure that had been empty since the 1960s, and used only as a repository for the assorted debris that one might normally associate with an active railway line.
It was an assessment by Parks Canada that determined the building could be given new purpose, and at a reasonable price. The library has grown with the community and has since moved to larger quarters, but the station is now to continue its life housing municipal offices. This was the result of the actions of a council that had a vision for the future, and valued its past.
Elmsdale lies in the heart of the East Hants corridor, the fastest-growing municipality in Nova Scotia, and for all the development that is going on, including mall expansions and condominium construction, that station serves to remind people of the enduring character of the community. The station reminds people of their roots and that there is a stability to their community that internationally franchised hamburger joints and video stores cannot provide. Doesn't Kentville need the roundhouse to provide a similar reminder to its citizens?
Other railway structures have been successfully saved, and most notable among them are the former Dominion Atlantic Railway station in Annapolis Royal, and the former Intercolonial Railway station in Tatamagouche. Both were restored with private investment, both are significant structures in the life of those communities, and both – I am proud to say – are owned by members of the Nova Scotia Railway Heritage Society.
If other examples are required, I can offer the Town of Pictou's determination to restore its historic railway station and museum, when a fire devastated the building in 1996.
Complimentary to that project, the DesBarres brothers restored the old federal customs house, and it now serves as a popular restaurant.
The town of Glace Bay saved its old town hall after it was forced into the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. This brick building was built about 1901, and was in regular use up until the CBRM was formed. The building was slated to be demolished but the community became involved, and group was formed – to make a long story short, it's now fully restored and serving as the local museum.
Locally, the former Dominion Atlantic Railway station in Wolfville has found new life and purpose. Why can this not be the fate of the roundhouse?
What we are asking the council to do is give full consideration to the possibilities that a restored roundhouse offers to the town. In doing so you can be assured of the co-operation of the Nova Scotia Railway Heritage Society and the Roundhouse Action Group to find sources of funding from all levels of government, the corporate sector and community groups, to relieve the taxpayers of Kentville of the onerous burden of financing this investment in their past and future.
There is nothing that tonight obliges council to continue the process of considering tenders for the demolition of the roundhouse. All that is required at this point is a resolution and vote to defer the decision until such time as this assessment has been made – and fully discussed – with input from the citizens of Kentville. You have time.
We are most certainly not opposed to the developer's plans, but it is our understanding the success of that plan hinges upon the developer successfully winning a competitive bidding process through the Province of Nova Scotia to acquire the beds necessary to enable the construction of the senior care facility.
With that in mind, may I say council is now putting itself in the position of destroying an historic building without any assurance that the developer's proposal can be carried through.
What a tragedy it would be to demolish a building with so much potential, only to discover that the developer's plans have been thwarted by decisions made beyond your control, and all that remains is a scar on the land. Wait at least until that decision is made.
In many ways the restoration of the roundhouse has already begun. Those who took advantage of last Friday's invitation to visit the building began to see it is more than just an ugly, abandoned eyesore, and discover the possibilities that Kentville's yesterdays hold for tomorrow.
The tour and the potential of the roundhouse has awakened an enthusiasm and interest in the town's development that I dare say was not there before, and has given many citizens a new sense of purpose, and a new reason to come downtown. Wasn't that the original purpose of your community economic development plan?
Thank you for your kind consideration. May I use any time that I have left to answer questions that you may have, especially about future uses for a restored roundhouse?