ST. MARY’S – The Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s will receive nearly $190,000 in funding from three federal departments to “revitalize communities and promote growth,” MP for Central Nova Sean Fraser announced in Sherbrooke last week.
The money is earmarked for infrastructure, transportation and technology projects designed to “ensure [that] public spaces are accessible [and to] help seniors maintain their independence, encourage residents to be active, [and] make our communities more vibrant and inclusive places to live and work,” Fraser told a crowd of about 30 at the municipal building on Nov. 10.
The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) will provide $120,000 through the Canada Community Revitalization Fund (CCRF) to implement part of the Sherbrooke Streetscapes Plan, which has been underway since 2018. According to the announcement, the new investment will be used to build “safer and more accessible pathways for people of all ages and abilities,” including curbed sidewalks and crosswalks.
Infrastructure Canada will provide $47,500 through the national Active Transportation Fund to help St. Mary’s municipality develop its own Active Transportation Plan, including research, community consultation and budgeting for a network of walking, biking and rolling trails that will “enable residents to get to their destination while spending more time outside and getting active.”
Meanwhile, Employment and Social Development Canada will provide $21,973 through the New Horizons for Seniors to help the municipality deliver its Tech Savvy Seniors program at community centres throughout St. Mary’s. The program will furnish tablet computers and training to seniors, “helping them combat social isolation, connect with their families, and remain in their homes longer.”
Speaking on behalf of Ginette Petitpas Taylor (Minister of Official Languages and Minister responsible for ACOA), Kamal Khera (Minister of Seniors) and Dominic LeBlanc (Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities), Fraser, who is also Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said: “We’re pleased to support these initiatives as they foster local pride and social connectivity, while revitalizing our communities, promoting growth and energizing the population.”
St. Mary’s Warden Greg Wier couldn’t agree more. “$190,000 always makes people feel better, doesn’t it?” he told The Journal in an interview following the announcement.
HE added: “All of this stuff was planned. Our staff knew what we as councillors would like to see happen, [but] they set up the plans, submitted them, and then went forward to secure the funding. I can’t emphasize how important the staff have been in this whole process. Everybody can have a dream and wonder what’s going to happen, but somebody’s gotta fill out the paperwork to get the money to make it all happen.”
Indeed, according to St. Mary’s Economic Development Officer Denise Dunn, the process required the collective efforts of many municipal employees, including: Marissa Jordan (Chief Administrative Officer), Kerri Jack (Director of Community Development and Recreation), Marian Fraser (Director of Finance), Maggie MacLellan (Active Living Coordinator), Deborah Torrey (Development Officer), and Mallory Fraser (Municipal Clerk), among others. “It’s amazing when you can connect dreams and visions and hard work to action on the ground,” Dunn said. “It’s been a very a well-coordinated effort. The staff really has been incredible.”
For residents of St. Mary’s, the new projects will go a long way towards improving both quality of life and standards of living, said Leigh McFarlane, Founder and CEO of the Soap Company of Nova Scotia, based in Sherbrooke. “All three projects are welcome initiatives to enhance various aspects of accessibility and it’s great to see ACOA supporting projects brought forward by the municipality. The sidewalks already underway not only look good, they also clearly define spaces for pedestrians and vehicles making Main Street safer to navigate.
Regarding the municipality’s Active Transportation Plan, she said: “The more we have to offer to community members and visitors alike in the form of walking trails and the like, the better. It’s great to see a project meant to reduce emissions and increase enjoyment of outside spaces be undertaken … Hopefully, it will include [the] creation of biking trails and, perhaps, even a biking lane on Highway 7 and 211.”
She also noted, “The project to increase accessibility to technology for seniors has the potential to make a meaningful difference to how older folks in our community connect with friends and loved ones. I’m curious to learn more about how it will work and if it will include Internet connectivity at home for seniors, too.”
According to Dunn, changes in the municipality are already afoot. “The infrastructure funding is available, and they're getting equipment rolling as we speak,” she said. “What you’re likely to see [right now] include clear guidelines and pathways for both vehicle and pedestrian safety. Sidewalks and curbing [in Sherbrooke] are being installed. A parking lot is being completely paved.”
Earlier this month, St., Mary’s completed an extensive, two-year-long municipal planning process that produced its first long-range, strategic vision and land-use bylaw in 15 years. During the public consultation phase of that project, residents indicated that their top three main priorities for the area were better marketing and branding, expanded open spaces and parks, and improvements to Sherbrooke’s downtown.
Said Weir: “Now that we have the plans in place, there will be more opportunities to apply for more money. We are absolutely hitting the ground running.”
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal