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Saving Small Old buildings

The other day a person was telling about the effort that is being made in Winsloe to preserve the little brick United Church out there. It was "retired" among others, when the new United Church opened out that way last year. It is an emotional effort. Little buildings like this one are scattered all over the Island. They are churches, halls, schools and sometimes stores and then we have lost so many of them, too. They identified communities. They were supported by communities and for a time many of them were ignored by communities, but when the chips are down someone always comes to the front and recognizes their responsibility and tries to save them.

Today with school consolidation, closing of grocery stories and service stations we have so few buildings to mark a community's centre and its distinctiveness. To all that add the demographic shifts in our rural communities where the numbers of people "born" in a community are changing every day. So we are forced to ask, who cares about our landmarks?

We do know for certain that those old buildings were built with the hard work and the dedication of our ancestors. We so often treat that effort with disrespect, but I have seen many Islanders rise to the challenge. Time and time again, too, I have seen new Islanders, new residents, often care more than we do ourselves about our landmarks.

So what does a community do to save an old building in their midst? Fortunately, most of these buildings aren't large. They are easy to put into a state of repair and are not difficult to keep that way. A new use might be less clear, but maybe that is something that doesn't have to be worried about quite so much - and so early. "If you build it they will come" could well be the answer to the problem. Even if it isn't, some buildings preserved on their landscape could be consider as a piece of public art waiting quietly for someone to love them.

We have many examples with those projects where all the questions were not answered at the beginning and their success today proves everyone right. Orwell Corner Hall is a good example. Indian River Church is another. The school house in Montecello is another example. The Pleasant Valley Church is another. I think if you spoke to the people connected with those project they would all say how surprised they were as to how things worked out and as to where the support came from.

Government make-work projects still help a great deal and every now and then there are some dollars from somewhere or other that can help. The additional bonus of taking on a project to preserve a special building is that it teaches you so much and gives you a cause that you will never regret. You grow.

It was comforting to hear the Speech From The Throne last week making, a mild I agree, reference to preserving our communities and heritage. That was, never the less, a first and we must not let them off the hook. Go to your MP and share your problem with him. Then seek some experienced people who have worked on old buildings. Your going to find that there is a lot of bad advice out there so you have to moving carefully. Go after the province, too, and convince them that they have a responsibility here, after all they market our heritage and our culture and it works. People enjoy the landmarks on our landscape. They'd lose so much if it wasn't for the likes of you caring people who take on these projects with their hearts on their sleeves; projects that have far more honesty than the like of Gateway Village , that is simply "The Geography of Nowhere". Why do people take comfort in building pretent-old when for so much less we can save the real thing and there is a story conected with it every time.

So my friends from Winsloe, don't give up. You have a treasure on our landscape,preserve it, enjoy it and they will come. Now I must go and help save The Heartz Hall in East Royalty.

Written Wednesday, February 07, 2001 at 10:52 PM

(c) 2000 by Catherine Hennessey. Questions or comments? Email me@catherinehennessey.com

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