SHERBROOKE – As communities across St. Mary’s peek from under the COVID-19 blanket, Sherbrooke Village will officially reopen to the public during the second week of July, confirms Executive Director Stephen Flemming.
“We will have guided tours for all visitor groups that arrive together,” he told The Journal in an email. “In this way, we will keep associated groups together for a quality experience while ensuring that they do not interact with others over our large site.”
Anticipation of the experiential museum’s resumption after nearly four months of government-mandated lockdown has been running high in the community since an exchange of posts appeared on its Facebook page last week, in which the village said news would be coming soon.
The living museum, which routinely attracts tourists from across Canada and the world, is a major cultural and economic driver along the Eastern Shore. According to Sherbrooke’s 2018 Streetscape Plan, the facility “has an average of 36,000 visitors each year [and] is an important employer in the area, also [contributing] to the local economy indirectly when its visitors eat at local restaurants, shop at local businesses, and stay overnight in local accommodations.”
Flemming said the visitor experience this season will be, by necessity, more circumspect than in previous years. “Some buildings that are conducive to one-way flow and space for an interpreter will be open for the touring groups to visit,” he noted. “Other buildings will be a peer-in experience with commentary by the guide.”
Since May, the Nova Scotia government has gradually relaxed restrictions on social gatherings, expanding the group limit from five to 10 people, and permitting casinos, campgrounds, restaurants, private daycare facilities, and several other establishments to open if they follow the province’s Health Protection Act order and certain “sector-specific” plans. Last week, Premier Stephen McNeil said he would be open to provincial participation in a so-called “Atlantic bubble”, which would allow non-restricted travel within the region, provided it could be done safely.
Meanwhile, thanks to this easing of some public health measures, St. Mary’s municipal office formally opened to the public on Monday, June 15. Typical business there includes property tax and utilities payments, assistance with forms and applications, and answering questions about recreation programs and equipment rentals.
To continue ensuring the safety of staff and members of the public, certain restrictions will apply, Chief Administrative Officer Marvin MacDonald confirmed in an email. “Staff have worked on a rotational basis in the office and at home since mid-March. We maintained a two-to-three staff limit in the office until June 1, at which time we allowed the full complement of six staff to be in the office. There’s now a limit of three on the number of non-staff at any one time, and we will maintain social distancing among people of two meters.”
As well, he said, additional signage and instructions will be posted at the front entrance; hand sanitizers will be provided to members of the public before and after transactions; protective equipment to staff will be furnished; and people will be encouraged, whenever possible, to pay by debit rather than cash.
He added: “We anticipate most of the restrictions to be removed as the provincial and federal public health guidelines are adjusted at the end of the pandemic.”
Although Flemming conceded that “this is not our ideal visitor experience” for Sherbrooke Village, “it is a safe approach for our reopening. We will continually evaluate and make changes as needed. Our website will have current information throughout the summer and fall.”