Future of historic Spaniard's Bay building in the balance

·4 min read

The future of the Wesley Gosse Memorial United Church Heritage Building in Spaniard’s Bay, which doubles as the town’s heritage museum, was a topic of discussion during the most recent meeting of council, as members of the Spaniard’s Bay Heritage Society were in the chamber to present a committee report, as well as discuss some of the concerns facing the museum.

Dianne Carr, chairperson of the society, said that the Heritage Committee for the last year has just consisted of herself and vice-chairperson Mary Hutchings, who was also present at the meeting.

“This has put a lot of restrictions on us, and a lot of responsibilities on us, when it comes to making decisions regarding heritage. However, having said that, Mary and I have worked really, really well together, and as a result, we’re quite pleased with the progress that we’ve made.,” said Carr.

She added that, because regular summer activities had been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, the committee was able to do some upkeep on the building. Part of that included having a building assessment done.

“And let’s face it, that building is heading up to 130 years old. It definitely has had problems, and will continue to have problems,” Carr said. “Most recently we have had some leaking in the belfry area, and we have continued to have problems with the front entrance door. I’m totally disappointed and frustrated with that, because council did give us a huge grant a few years back, we did get some money from Heritage Canada, but most of it was from the Town to support having the exterior of the building painted and any repairs to the doors made. The doors were not done well at all, and we’ve had a lot of difficulty accessing the doors. There’s been all kinds of problems. And we haven’t had another way to get into the building, because the exit is a fire exit.”

Carr said the doors have also deteriorated with use over time.

“I have complained to Heritage Canada, because they recommended, they were the ones who recommended the contractor at the time,” said Carr.

A professional assessment of the building was done Nov. 6.

“The engineer who came out and did the assessment was quite thorough. He went through the building top-to-bottom, inside and outside and underground,” said Carr, noting the engineer found things that need to be addressed immediately, and other things that need to be remedied in the long-term.

“If we value it, and want to preserve it, then the commitment has to come to put money behind it. And at this point I have no idea how much that money will be,” Carr said. “There is some work that needs to be done, and as each year goes by, it’s only going to get worse, and worse, and worse. If we let the building go, we’re going to have to look for an alternate space for our heritage museum and all the beautiful things we have inside.”

Some of the work the committee will consider doing in the near future includes repairing the front door, doing patchwork to prevent leaks, and work on the fence and wheelchair ramp.

Most repairs will be paid out of the committee’s budget. To complicate some matters further, Carr reminded council that all repairs must be kept in line with heritage conservation policy, or else they could run the risk of losing heritage status for the building.

Carr did note that, according to the engineer, the crawl space under the building was in surprisingly good condition, although some of the posts had rotted out.

She also said it would not be wise to depend entirely on funding from other external sources, as many heritage funding grants are given in addition to a main funding base.

“So, for example, with Heritage Newfoundland, they will contribute no more than 25 per cent. So that means the rest of the money has to come from the municipal government, or from fundraising,” she explained. “We have to know that down the road, that even if we do get funding from other sources, a lot of the money will have to come from here.”

Carr acknowled the Town has put plenty of funds into the building already.

Mayor Paul Brazil said that other groups, like the Port de Grave Peninsula Heritage Society, had received provincial funding, and he suggested reaching out to MHA Pam Parsons to inquire about how to apply for such money.

Meanwhile, Deputy Mayor Darlene Stamp commended the work the committee had done over the summer. Carr attributed much of the progress to summer student Cara Callahan.

“She’s a great example of a youth who is totally committed to her community and that sense of belonging and (wanting to) see things happen within our town,” said Carr.

Deputy Mayor Stamp recommended council establish a committee to investigate the cost of repairs needed for the building, but Mayor Brazil said it would be something more fitting for the finance committee to have a look at. Meanwhile, he said he would talk with MHA Parsons about how to go about getting a grant for the Heritage Society.

Mark Squibb, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Shoreline News