Top News

Newfoundland, Nova Scotia tourist destinations receive national heritage honours

Brian MacKay-Lyons stands outside B2 Lofts in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. — SALTWIRE NETWORK FILE PHOTO
Brian MacKay-Lyons stands outside B2 Lofts in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. — SALTWIRE NETWORK FILE PHOTO

Trio of properties recognized for resiliency, transformative qualities

A trio of head-turning properties in Atlantic Canada are receiving national attention for showing that heritage buildings can remain vital and contribute to a community's quality of life.

The National Trust of Canada — a non-profit devoted to historic places — recently announced the winners of the 2020 Ecclesiastical Insurance Cornerstone Awards.

B2 Lofts in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia — a project that added a new structure to a pre-existing property and drew upon the architecture of buildings in the neighbourhood for its design — was recognized as a transformative project. In Newfoundland and Labrador, two properties, Harbour Grace's Conception Bay Museum and the Garrick Theatre in Bonavista, were winners in the resilient historic places category. Eleven winners in all were announced.

B2 Lofts

B2 Lofts is owned by married couple Marilyn and Brian MacKay-Lyons. Brian is an award-winning architect who also designed the project through his company MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects.

"We look to historic architecture for inspiration all the time when we make modern buildings," explained Brian, who has also taught architecture for almost 40 years.

"This is an example of how our practice does that. We've got an existing building, and then you get to make a new one next to it that is respectful of its context."

The adjoined properties include six loft apartments available to rent on a nightly basis and two street-level commercial spaces, one of which MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects occupies. B2 Lofts is nestled in the Lunenburg — UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic District. Earlier this year, Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia recognized the project for excellence in the “respectful insertion of a new building among heritage buildings.”

"The UNESCO heritage rules internationally are based on the idea buildings that are built in a World UNESCO Heritage Site should be of their own time and not fake copies of historical buildings," Brian said. "That happens a lot, and UNESCO says you shouldn't do that because then after a while, you won't know what's real history and what's fake history. They say you have to make it contemporary, but you have to be subservient to the historical context. It's a classic UNESCO approach that we've taken with this one."

For historic neighbourhoods, it's an approach he'd encourage others to work towards when looking at new developments — Brian considers B2 Lofts akin to a demonstration project.

"It's just nice to make a contribution to your community," he added.

Conception Bay Museum

The Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace was founded in 1970, situated in a 150-year-old brick structure that once served as a Customs House for the community.

Patrick Collins, chairman of the volunteer board responsible for the museum, noted it has survived in a community that's been through a lot of hard times.

"It's in a community that's undergone so much loss, so much change and tragedy," he said. "But yet the town has kept rising from the ashes ... and for this building to have served so many functions and still adapt and change and still be alive and a functional building in that community — for me, that's what I find in terms of the word resilient."

The Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace is located in the community's former Customs House, built in 1870. — SALTWIRE NETWORK FILE PHOTO
The Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace is located in the community's former Customs House, built in 1870. — SALTWIRE NETWORK FILE PHOTO

In addition to serving as a museum that helps shine a light on the community's substantial contributions to aviation history — pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart's Transatlantic solo flight in 1932 departed from the local airstrip — it also serves as a gathering place for social events. The museum hosts musical performances in its garden. Last year, steps leading from the museum property to a small beach known as Colston’s Cove were rebuilt to accommodate public access.

Over the years, it has employed hundreds of young people through summer jobs. Although it was not open to the public in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor performances continued, and the summer students worked on research projects relevant to the museum.

It has also embraced the digital world. The museum's website — conceptionbaymuseum.com — contains a treasure trove of information, and its social media accounts engage the public by sharing cool photos and facts.

"We're elated — that's to put it mildly," Collins said when asked how it feels to win the award. "There's a sense of pride now that we're recognized and that the building is recognized and that the museum is recognized as contributing to this wonderful community."

Garrick Theatre

The Garrick Theatre in Bonavista has a history that dates back to 1945. It was closed for a decade before it reopened in 2010 under the ownership of the Bonavista Historic Townscape Foundation.

David Bradley, chairman of the Foundation, said the theatre owes its success and resilience to how it operates as a social enterprise.

"In a small market as we have — and it's a much smaller market than when the theatre was built in 1945 — it would be virtually impossible to run the theatre in any form as a private enterprise," Bradley explained.

"But as a social enterprise, we were able to call on a lot of community support. The patrons of the theatre support the theatre. There are many donors and sponsors. The Town of Bonavista supports the theatre every year with an annual operating grant. And that's what makes it viable. That's what helps to make it vibrant."

The Garrick Theatre in Bonavista is a multi-use, 200-seat theatre and meeting space owned and operated by the Bonavista Historic Townscape Foundation. — SALTWIRE NETWORK FILE PHOTO
The Garrick Theatre in Bonavista is a multi-use, 200-seat theatre and meeting space owned and operated by the Bonavista Historic Townscape Foundation. — SALTWIRE NETWORK FILE PHOTO

Located in the centre of town on its main street, the Garrick includes a 200-seat theatre space for movies, musical performances and live theatre productions, and it also has a smaller space with food and beverage service called The Annex that can be booked for meetings and performances. With its many historic properties and scenic sites, Bonavista has become a popular tourist destination.

"We program to meet a broad range of interests in the community," Bradley said. "It's not intended to serve one segment of society or another, or local people versus visitors or vice versa."

Bradley, who also credits staff for making the theatre a success, stressed the importance of not overlooking the value of buildings with a history.

"People often overlook the value of heritage buildings and don't necessarily think of them as being adaptable to various kinds of uses," he said. "I think the first thing people think of when they think of a theatre is a new theatre. The benefit of operating in a new facility would surely in some people's minds outweigh the value of being in an older building that might be outmoded in various ways. But the Garrick was actually purpose-built as a theatre ... Its layout and acoustics are very good for that purpose. While we have some modern equipment and some of the finishes inside are a little more modern, we were able to retain much of the historic fabric of the building ... I think the result is a very appealing facility that people always comment on when they visit there the first time."

[email protected]

@CBNAndrew

Andrew Robinson in a business reporter in St. John’s.

RELATED:

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories