After sitting abandoned for 25 years, McNabs Island Teahouse gets facelift

A rustic-looking building constructed from crumbling foundations on an island in Halifax harbour is getting a complete overhaul, thanks to contributions from residents, businesses and government.

The stone building known as the Teahouse was built on McNabs Island in the 1980s, a pet project of John Jenkins, who used to run the ferry service to the island.

"It looks very old," says Cathy McCarthy of the Friends of McNabs Island Society. "It looks like it's 200 years old, but it's not."

Jenkins hired two bricklayers to gather the stones and construct the snug building, which housed a café for several years before closing in 1994. 

The building has sat empty since then, accumulating a quarter-century worth of dust and the detritus introduced by unknown critters during the intervening years.

Friends of McNabs Island Society

Jenkins gave the building to the Friends of McNabs Island Society, which has been fundraising for years to transform the teahouse into an interpretive centre.

Now, with the help of a $17,000 grant from the provincial Communities, Culture and Heritage Department, donations from supporters and discounts from businesses, the group is getting closer to accomplishing its goal.

Volunteers have hauled out the old fridge, stove, freezer, tables and chairs and started renovations — no small feat, considering the island is a 25-minute boat ride from Halifax or Dartmouth.

"Doing everything on McNabs costs much more than it would cost in the city because you're dealing with boat transportation and getting over there," says McCarthy.

Major renovations underway

The building now has a new metal roof — complete with skylights — and new windows and doors will be installed soon, says McCarthy.

The society plans to install solar panels, restore the patio, chimney and fireplace, and install a flagstone floor at some point.

The building is surrounded by a terraced Victorian garden planted in the 1880s in part by botanist and horticulturist Frederick Perrin, of the British family famous for Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce.

"So it's an absolutely beautiful spot.… Having this building open will be a great boost for all the outdoor education programming that's done on the island," says McCarthy. 

"It'll be a place where people can gather, have their lunch, learn a bit about the island and really, it'll be a great boost because right now there's nowhere for people to go, say, if the weather gets bad."

The group is still trying to raise money for some of the renovations. It plans to open the building next year.