CORNWALL – Before renovating and moving into what was once a community eyesore, the Cornwall Dental Clinic operated out of the town's old post office.
"And it was a small building back then," Dr. Don Stewart said.
He bought the building while he was finishing up dental school, which more than 30 years later the clinic was starting to outgrow. He considered expanding, but it was so cramped the needed expansion would have resulted in construction happening all around him and his team non-stop.
"There's not a chance I could go through this," he thought at the time.
That's when he looked just up the street at a run-down building originally constructed in the mid-1800s. It had housed several businesses through the years and required "absolutely everything" to stay standing, he said.
Despite this, Stewart liked its old-fashioned look and its central location so he bought it. He had the building stripped then contracted some trusted family friends to tackle the renovations. He credits them for making the vision a reality.
"I'm sure they thought I was absolutely nuts," he said. "We looked at what was essentially the worst building in the town of Cornwall – one that was slated for demolition – and decided that this is what we were going to do."
The project was no small task for P.E.I. carpenter Philip Beaulac.
"To be honest, I didn't look forward to it at all," he said, laughing. "It was a lot of work."
Beaulac's team of three – which includes his father, Ben, who came out of retirement just to help Stewart – picked away at the project part-time for two and a half years while the dental clinic continued operating just down the street.
Construction had to take place mostly on the original foundation, otherwise the section of Main Street – which was then the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) – would have had to be adjusted. The only salvageable part of the building was the original frame at the front, which had been added onto a few times.
"It was so old it wasn't put together with nails. It was put together with wooden pegs," Beaulac said. "That part wasn't in terrible shape. It was everything that was added after that was in worse shape."
Drywalling, roofing, insulating, shingling, Beaulac's team handled everything. The project was outside his usual scope but he's proud of the final product and believes Cornwall owes gratitude to Stewart for having the building spruced up.
"It's a project I'll never forget," Beaulac said.
The Cornwall Dental Clinic has been working in the new building for more than a year now. Town council recently recognized the clinic for its 35 years of service to the community with a plaque.
"We thank you for your commitment, as well as for restoring the building," Mayor Minerva McCourt said at the meeting. "The building is magnificent."
The clinic now operates in a large, open and more modernized space offering plenty of room for Stewart and four other dentists to work in. The front is lined with windows looking right out onto Main Street, and the original foundation and wooden beams can still be seen throughout the brightly lit interior.
"We're very lucky to have done it when we did because now we can do some social distancing," Stewart said. "It was really done for our patients."
Stewart has seen a lot of growth in Cornwall through the years. Now that Main Street is no longer part of the TCH it's growing even more, so he's proud the clinic can continue to be a prominent piece of history in the heart of Cornwall.
"It'll last for another 150 years."
Daniel Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian