Sherbrooke Village seeks matching funds

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
July 1 2020

SHERBROOKE – In a bid to expand its cultural tourism product, Historic Sherbrooke Village is attempting to persuade private donors and the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) to match the $994,000 grant it received last week from the Nova Scotia government.

“That’s the discussion right now,” the museum’s Executive Director Stephen Flemming confirmed for The Journal. “We are in the midst of fundraising towards an ACOA grant and other donations for a total of [between] $600,000 [and] $800,000” over the next two years.

Flemming said he was stunned, along with just about everyone else in Sherbrooke, when provincial Minister for Transportation and Infrastructure Lloyd Hines – who is also MLA for Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie – announced the funding last Monday at an event outside the Village’s old masonic hall.

The money – part of a $228 million community stimulus package designed to offset the economic effects of the COVID-19 emergency – is targeted for renovations to many of the site’s 19th century-era buildings and for work on a new community park. Under the terms of the offer, the projects must be finished by the fiscal year-end of March 31, 2021.

“When we were coming up with the provincial stimulus package, our government looked at projects that didn’t require a long lead time for permits – projects that we could do easily, and that were shovel-ready,” Hines said in an interview following the announcement.

But the grant, Flemming noted, is also an investment instrument for revitalizing the Rural Institute for Cultural Heritage and Environmental Sustainability (RICHES) – the Village’s umbrella program for community economic development, which paused when the pandemic hit in March.

“The building upgrades and the community park are one thing,” he said, “but so are the training and skills development programs around music and arts and experiential tourism. That’s the other piece – building a lovely cultural campus. We’re layering things on top of one another deliberately, so that the teaching facility is also an active tourism experience. The two things link very nicely.”

Despite the provincial contribution, it’s not yet clear whether new money will be available from ACOA for the rejuvenated RICHES program – which received a $68,000 grant from the province for planning and curriculum development in 2019 – but the federal agency indicated its willingness to loosen the purse strings generally for tourism initiatives this year, already making some funding announcements.

For others who live and work along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore it’s at least one more indication that life might be returning to a welcome semblance of normal after four months of dislocation and uncertainty.

Last week, almost simultaneous with the ACOA release and the Sherbrooke Village grant, the Nova Scotia government declared its support for an “Atlantic Bubble” that will allow intraregional travel among the four Atlantic provinces, effective July 3, along with a new marketing campaign that effectively reverses Premier Stephen MacNeil’s arch advice in April for his fellow citizens to “Stay the blazes home.”

In the June 25 news release launching the campaign, the premier said, “With travel restrictions in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nova Scotia’s tourism industry will rely more than ever on visitors from within the province. This year, I invite Nova Scotians to travel within the province and rediscover the things that have drawn visitors here from all over the world.”

All of which delights St. Mary’s Warden Michael Mosher, who said in an interview that he is “very pleased with the province’s commitment” to Sherbrooke Village. “As long as it’s also about the health and safety of the citizens and it benefits the economy, it’s all wonderful news. Tourism forms a very large part of our economy. It’s very important to us.”

Karen Weanus, General Manager of Liscombe Lodge, heartily agrees. In an email, she said, “We are all very excited for Sherbrooke Village and the amazing grant they have received. Whenever money is put into any place on the Eastern Shore, from Sheet Harbour to Sherbrooke, it has a positive effect on Liscombe Lodge. It brings people to our areas and that makes us all happy.”

She’s also seen the attitude shift up close and personal in recent days. “Once we knew we were going to open this year, we did a Super Saving Special called ‘Beat the Clock’ on June 10 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” she said. “It was almost overwhelming. We [had] three times as [many bookings] as we have ever [had] on any of these specials [in previous years]. It was incredible. This tells you how much people want to get away from home and this was just Nova Scotians.”

She added: “Before COVID-19, the season was looking pretty good for Liscombe Lodge. Once it hit, there was no way to tell what was going to happen and what our world was going to look like. We now have a sense that things are changing every day.

“It will not be as it was and most likely never will be but the lodge is open, the Riverside Dining room is open for dine in or take out service, the marina is open and we are working on the pool and to top it off the sun is still shining.”

Flemming might echo those sentiments. As he leverages the most from the village’s welcome and unexpected financial support, he says he’s hopeful. “It’s early days in the fundraising, but we really have an opportunity to do something here that wasn’t available to us until. . .well. . .a week ago.”

He added: “Consider that we’re really aimed at doing fundamental skills development experiential tourism – meaningful tourism – for Guysborough County as a starting place, but also for rural Nova Scotia in general. That’s the real impact.”