Sherbrooke Village receives million-dollar boost from province

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
June 24 2020

SHERBROOKE – Historic Sherbrooke Village will receive $1 million from the provincial government over the next nine months to renovate its world-renowned heritage properties, Nova Scotia Minister for Transportation and Infrastructure Lloyd Hines announced on Monday.

The grant, part of a province-wide, $228 million community stimulus package designed to offset the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be used to repair and upgrade many of the living museum’s roughly 90 vintage structures, and complete work on a new community park. Under the terms of the offer, the projects must be completed by the end of the current fiscal year, March 31, 2021.

At the announcement to an assembly of about 50 applauding Sherbrooke residents, a visibly gratified Hines – MLA for Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie – joked, “Actually, I think it’s more like $994,000. I’m rounding up.”

He added: “The village is so important to the province and to our tourist product in Nova Scotia and to our people who are working here. Each one of its buildings is a museum unto itself, and they’re expensive to maintain. So, really, this is wonderful.”

In an interview with The Journal following the event, Hines said, “Essentially, 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.”

For Sherbrooke Village – administered by Sherbrooke Restoration Commission as part of the Nova Scotia Museum, which established the site in 1969 to preserve a piece of the community as it appeared in the last half of the 19th century – finding things to do is not a problem.

“Our projects are always ready to go,” said the village’s Executive Director, Stephen Flemming, who confirmed the new funding took him and his staff of about 100 full-time and seasonal workers pleasantly by surprise when they learned about it earlier this month. “With this grant, we can get things done in the next year that would have taken us a decade to complete.

“The community park is already at phase one. We’ve got new roofing and painting crews coming in. There’s really low visitation now anyway, so we can do all kinds of construction and get the place looking awesome. By the time we get into the middle of July, the place will look like a gigantic construction zone.”

That’s not a moment too soon, said Neil Black, a director of the Historic Sherbrooke Village Development Society, a citizen advisory group. “These million dollars couldn’t have come at a better time. Look around and you see tired buildings that need sprucing up. But you’re also seeing a groundswell of pride in this place, in this part of the province. This restoration program is a feature within that larger context.”

Over the years, Historic Sherbrooke Village has become one of the Eastern Shore’s ‘go-to’ cultural and tourism destinations. Despite occasionally stagnant or slumping tourism in Nova Scotia overall, it has regularly attracted large numbers of travellers from western and central Canada, Quebec, the United States and Northern Europe.

Between 2015-19, approximately 136,000 people visited the interactive museum complex, compared with 98,000 during the 2011-14 period. Last year, the village’s Old-Fashioned Christmas week, which featured original and live work by local artists, drew more than 6,000 people from across the province.

One reason for its current success is its focus in recent years on the so-called “activities” segment of the tourism marketplace.

Earlier this year, talking about the village’s new Rural Institute for Cultural Heritage and Environmental Sustainability (RICHES) program, Flemming told The Journal: “We’ve been shifting things. It’s a more first-person experience than before. When you walk in, it really is like walking into a town in the 1860s. All the interpreters are in character. The general store clerk is going to try to sell you something. The farmer’s going to be leading a horse, and he’s probably going to smell like one, too.”

The $1 million grant will be used, in effect, to maintain that focus on historic experiences, the long-term effects of which are becoming increasingly evident in the broader economy, Black said.

“We are now seeing the children of people who have retired in Sherbrooke coming to work here. We are seeing a generational movement. Developments like this one today tell them they don’t have to exodus. They can come and have jobs for a lifetime.”

For now, though, village keepers know they have the March 31 deadline to beat.

“A lot of things are going to get done in very short order here,” Hines said. “The stimulus program, itself, is just the tip of what is the largest provincial capital budget in our history – at over $1 billion – to fight back against COVID.”

That means it won’t likely be replicated any time soon. As for how the province will ultimately foot such a massive spending bill, Hines added, “I’m sure somebody is very worried about that. But it’s not me, and it’s not today.”