$6.5 million for new Sheet Harbour community centre

Construction could begin as early as June

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
October 14 2020

SHEET HARBOUR – With $6.5 million in federal and provincial grants, the new Eastern Shore Lifestyle Centre (ESLC) is set to break ground along Sheet Harbour’s historic West River as early as June, says former Canadian Senator and ESLC board chair Tom McInnis.

At a joint news conference last week, Central Nova MP Sean Fraser and Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie MLA Lloyd Hines announced $3.6 million and $2.9 million, respectively, for a 21,000 square-foot, multi-use facility – incorporating a fitness complex, meeting hall and library – to replace the aging and crumbling Sheet Harbour Community Centre.

The funding complements a $3 million contribution from Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) in May and brings the total value of public investment to just over $9 million.

According to McInnes, the new money effectively greenlights the project, which has been in the planning stages for at least two years. “The architectural firm. . .will be [retained] shortly,” he told The Journal. “I expect we’ll have conceptual plans sometime before the end of the year, if not the beginning of next. With the engineering and everything in place, we probably could start excavation by June, and then we’re probably talking about a year, a year-and-a-half, for construction.”

At the announcement, Fraser, Hines, and HRM Councillor for the Sheet Harbour area David Hendsbee emphasized the economic spinoffs the investments should generate.

“Today is a good news day after years of work that has come to fruition,” said Fraser, who is also Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministers of Finance and Middle Class Prosperity, and Associate Minister of Finance. “Investing in community, recreation and cultural infrastructure creates jobs in our communities and promotes people’s health and well-being.”

Added Hines, who is also Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal: “The new facility will increase the attractiveness of [this] community. Along with the recent announcement of high-speed Internet, you are increasing the amenities and newcomers demand amenities.”

Hendsbee concurred: “The ESLC will give Sheet Harbour and the eastern rural region of HRM a renewed sense of sustainability and vitality to attract and retain residents and visitors alike.”

Still, McInnis noted, some steps remain before construction can begin on the 22-acre, provincial Crown-owned site, including environmental and cultural reviews. “There is, for example, the possibility of a Mi’kmaq Ecological Knowledge Study, which you would do when you’re buying a piece of Crown land,” he said. “We had already excluded the southern portion of lands on the west side of the falls because it was thought to host Mi’kmaq burial grounds.”

Once these matters clear, the province would transfer ownership of the property for “fair market value” to HRM, which will own and operate the new centre. “It should probably be for about $100,000 or $150,000,” McInnis said.

At the same time, he added that these new grants don’t come with strings attached: “They’re seamless. There’s no direction about what specifics the cheques must be spent on, apart from the facility’s actual construction.”

The $3.6 million federal contribution is part of the Community, Culture, and Recreation Stream of the Investing in Canada infrastructure Plan. According to a backgrounder accompanying the announcement, “The Government of Canada has invested more than $812 million in 194 infrastructure projects across Nova Scotia under the Investing in Canada plan.”

For McInnis and others in Sheet Harbour who have been advocating for a new community centre for years, the timing couldn’t be better.

“Increasingly, we have a real challenge attracting and holding professionals here,” he said. “Doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, teachers. . .It’s difficult, being kind of an outport area. You have to have things for them to do. Our old centre just can’t do the job anymore. This is a good project, and it’s required now.”