Historic Sherbrooke Village submits $1M ask to ACOA

Pandemic continues to cast shadow over plans

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
November 18 2020

SHERBROOKE – Historic Sherbrooke Village officials are cautiously optimistic that the living museum will soon qualify for new federal funding worth about $1 million.

The provincial site, which employs 80 seasonal workers, submitted its final proposal for a grant to cover the cost of expanded tourism and employee training facilities “within the past few weeks,” director of visitor experience Robin Anderson said.

“It has been put across the desk of ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) for final review and recommendation. All indicators are that they are encouraged by the ask,” she added.

In June, the village received just less than $1 million from the provincial government to repair many of its historic buildings and to leverage matching funds from ACOA, under an existing economic development formula, which also requires a municipal or private sector fundraising component.

“Certainly, the top priority now is the development of some sort of fundraising committee,” Anderson said.

“That’s the next step.”

If successful, Historic Sherbrooke Village officials plan to use the federal money to revitalize the Rural Institute for Cultural Heritage and Environmental Sustainability (RICHES) – the museum’s umbrella plan to expand its cultural tourism product and stimulate community economic development, which paused when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March.

“Building upgrades are one thing,” Executive Director Stephen Flemming told The Journal at the time of the provincial funding announcement in June, “but so are training and skills development programs around music and arts and experiential tourism. That’s the other piece – building a lovely cultural campus. We’re layering things on top of one another deliberately, so that the teaching facility is also an active tourism experience. The two things link very nicely.”

Still, it’s not clear how hard the pandemic has hit pocket books in recent weeks.

“I think behind closed doors the million-dollar question is whether [or not] the potential donors are in a position to write the cheques,” Anderson said, noting that both visitor traffic and revenue at the museum were down substantially this year, compared with previous ones.

“From a revenue perspective, it was obviously really crappy. We were running at about 15 to 20 per cent of normal range.”

Prior to the outbreak, Flemming reported that 136,000 people visited the museum between 2015 and 2019, roughly 27 per cent more than the approximately 98,000 during the 2011-14 period. The annual Old-Fashioned Christmases were big draws, routinely attracting thousands of visitors to the site during the off seasons. This year’s event was scuttled due to concerns about Covid-19.

“On the positive side, we’ve still been able to employ all of our staff who work seasonally,” Anderson said. “Every single bubble or family that came through the village this summer received a guided tour. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who really appreciated that. We are provincially funded, so we really don’t have that much to complain about,” he says.