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Historic Lower Bedeque Schoolhouse not opening to the general public this summer

Doug Sobey, board member of the Friends of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Lower Bedeque School Inc., will open the Lower Bedeque Schoolhouse this year for 14 or so already scheduled tour buses. However, the facility will not be open to the general public.
Doug Sobey, board member of the Friends of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Lower Bedeque School Inc., will open the Lower Bedeque Schoolhouse this year for 14 or so already scheduled tour buses. However, the facility will not be open to the general public. - Millicent McKay

LOWER BEDEQUE – The historic Lower Bedeque school house was once lost to the hands of time. Now history may be doomed to repeat itself.
This summer, the schoolhouse, one of only three that Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of "Anne of Green Gables", taught at will not be open to the general public.
"It's an important place for the Island because of its importance to Lucy Maud," said Mary Kendrick, the chairwoman of Experience P.E.I.
Experience P.E.I. is an experiential tourism company Kendrick opened with her husband several years ago. She is one of the main caretakers of the schoolhouse.
"For the last five years, we've tried to find someone to care for the building in the community. I'm an hour away, so if an emergency were to happen, it'd be hard to get there."
The original schoolhouse in the area was built in 1840. The current structure dates back to 1880 and remained open until the 1960s.
Montgomery was a substitute teacher at the school for about six months from 1897 to 1898.
"Following its closure, it became derelict. Until efforts by the local community in the 1980s to restore the schoolhouse and make it into a museum," explained Doug Sobey, a local historian and board member of the Friends of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Lower Bedeque School Inc.

The exterior of the Lower Bedeque Schoolhouse. The original building dates back to 1840. It was open until the 1960s. Following its closure, the structure fell into disrepair. Then in the 1980s community members worked to restore the building into a museum.
The exterior of the Lower Bedeque Schoolhouse. The original building dates back to 1840. It was open until the 1960s. Following its closure, the structure fell into disrepair. Then in the 1980s community members worked to restore the building into a museum.


The schoolhouse opened as a museum in 1989. Last year there were 608 visitors between in July and August, that's not including the individuals that came from scheduled bus tour visits.
"It's sad. But the reality is, the community has to step up and save it if they want it. Sometimes you have to see the absence of something to see how it affects the community. It was a hard decision to make, but there had to be a decision," said Kendrick.
Thanks to Sobey, the schoolhouse isn't completely shut off from Islanders and visitors.
Sobey will open the house for the 14 or so Japanese bus tours that come to the Island annually. Kendrick said if someone contacted her about visiting the schoolhouse she would check with Sobey to if he were available and willing to open it for them.
"It kills me not to have it open, but what else could I do," Kendrick said.
When facing the decision to close the facility, Kendrick said she reached out to the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation to see if they would be able to take control and care of the property.
"I had spoken to Mary about is, but unfortunately we're not in the position to do so," said David Keenlyside, the executive director of the foundation.
"It's difficult for many of these smaller operations, it's hard to find volunteers. People don't seem to have the availability of time," said Keenlyside.
Kendrick agreed.
"Volunteering is considered something for older people. Millennials don't give back in the same way we used to give back. That' part of how I got the job. I was given the keys while the caretaker was recovering from surgery. When they passed away, it was put in my lap to take care of."
Kendrick said she also checked if the Bedeque Area Historical Society would be willing to take over the property.
Sobey, who also serves on the board of the historical society, said all options to take care of the property are being looked at, including moving the building to a more centralized location.
"The future of the school is uncertain but everyone is looking at different options."
Kendrick said locations like the schoolhouse are an important part of the Island culture.
"It's what the Island is all about. It's relevant to the whole Island."
She recognized that the lack of willing volunteers isn't a plight that is unique to the schoolhouse.
"We're going to lose an awful lot of locations in the next 10 years because people don't have the will."

millicent.mckay@journalpioneer.com
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