Students spruce up historic Red Brick Row houses in Sydney Mines

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Students spruce up historic Red Brick Row houses in Sydney Mines

Students in the art club at Sydney Mines Middle School have put their stamp on a piece of town history.

The group of Grade 7 and 8 students has created a mural that's been mounted on one end of the Red Brick Row, which sits across the street from their school.

The row of 12 brick housing units was originally constructed in the early 1800s for coal mine managers and supervisors, and it's believed to be the oldest surviving fully intact row housing in Canada. The site is designated by the Cape Breton Regional Municipality as a municipal heritage landmark.

Until a few years ago, the row had been badly rundown, but most of the units have been renovated and six are currently occupied.

"You've turned a liability in the community into public art," Cape Breton University professor Tom Urbaniak told the students during the unveiling Tuesday.

Urbaniak is director of CBU's Tompkins Institute, which has been leading the effort to rehabilitate the units.

The institute's goal now is to restore and repurpose the last three end units. One option being explored is to convert them into an arts hub cafe.

"With all the work that we're going to be doing here, we wanted something to kind of protect the bricks," said Norm Hubbert, an MBA student at CBU who has been heavily involved in the project.

"We believe the brick came across from England as ballast on ships," he said. "They would bring them across, they'd take the ballast off, and they'd put the coal on, and they'd take the coal back to England."

CBU asked the Sydney Mines Middle School students to design and create a mural, and facilitated a couple of workshops with the students in November to brainstorm ideas.

The Sydney Architectural Conservation Society provided funding to cover the cost of materials, and to stabilize the three units structurally.

The completed mural, which measures 12 metres by 4.5 metres, incorporates scenes from the community, including the old post office, the local ball field and rink and the cenotaph.

"They're places that all the kids and adults here know," said Grade 8 student Kenna MacDougall. "And they're just the places in Sydney Mines that stand out, and they're just important places to us."

MacDougall and Grade 7 student Maggie Gibbons are proud of the group's work.

"It feels really amazing, actually," said MacDougall. "Because this could be standing for a long time, and just to know that we put so much work into it is pretty cool."

"I hope it's a part of history," said Gibbons.

When the renovation work on the three units is complete, parts of the mural may be moved to the side of the building, said Hubbert.