Historic landmark receives funding
Former BMO building to be renovated into museum
Betty Weeks still remembers the day she first walked into the Bank of Montreal building on Charlotte Street in Sydney.
“I wasn’t working for a very long time and I decided I wanted to buy a car,” said Weeks of her first experience at the bank in the 1950s.
Weeks asked the bank manager, at the time Pat Ellis, if he would lend her the $2,000 she needed to buy the used car.
“I went and bought the car and I wrote them a cheque and they cashed it and I still (hadn’t made) the arrangements for the loan,” laughed the 93-yearold Sydney resident. “It goes to show you how trustful they were in those days.”
Weeks was on hand at the former bank on Friday for a funding announcement, where the federal government announced funding of $175,000 through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s (ACOA) Innovative Communities Fund.
Sydney- Victoria MP Mark Eyking made the funding an- nouncement of behalf of Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minster of ACOA.
The funding will help the Old Sydney Society, which currently owns the building, renovate the former BMO facility and turn into a community facility and museum.
Vince MacLean, president of the Old Sydney Society, said the funding announced will cover half the cost of the overall renovation to the building.
“We are very upbeat about the fact that this is one of the most magnificent buildings in Nova Scotia and in order to see it preserved and protected and brought back to some of its original form is just a great challenge and opportunity for us.”
The building was constructed in 1899 during the steel industry’s economic boom. The unique architectural appeal and historical significance secured its recognition as a registered municipal heritage property.
The Bank of Montreal donated the building to the society after it moved to a new facility on Prince Street in Sydney last year. The society officially received the keys to the building last fall.
“We started moving as quickly as we could,” said MacLean of the renovations. “We have quite a bit of work done so far, a lot of volunteer labour and a lot of donated material, so it’s moving along nicely.”
The total of cost of renovations, including the displays, will be around $350,000.
The museum will feature Cape Breton and Sydney history, artifacts as well as electronic and new designs that are in museums in other parts of the country. MacLean said the society wanted to have the downtown location for tourists.
“The cruise ship passengers are our bread and butter,” he said. “Our walking tours provide a significant source of revenue and we will start the tours at St. Patrick’s Church and they will finish at the museum.”
Charlotte MacLean- Cox was also on hand for the announcement. She used to work at the bank as a file clerk, filing cheques by hand in the late 1960s.
“It’s very exciting to be back in this building where I worked many years ago,” said MacLeanCox. “I’m reliving a lot of mem- ories here today — I remember the architectura always blew me away.”
MacLean-Cox believes the new museum downtown is a wonderful idea.
“I’ve travelled a little and no matter where I was, I always wanted to know about the history,” said the Sydney resident, who worked in the bank industry for six years before becoming a stay-at-home mother.
Weeks was also pleased to hear the plans for building, which is located in the north end of the city, and attracts 26,000 visitors annually.
“I think it’s going to be great for the community,” said Weeks. “I think it’s so great that we’re not losing the building and (we’re) putting it to good use.”
The Old Sydney Society recently completed infrastructure improvements and added a new permanent exhibit to the St. Patrick’s Church Museum in Sydney.
MacLean said the society is hoping to start fundraising for the remainder of the money needed for renovations and displays soon.
“I think when people see what we are doing, it might be easier to encourage some to make a donation, and that’s been our aim,” said MacLean, who is hoping they can raise between $75,000 and $100,000. “The more we raise the better displays we are going to have to put in the building.”
MacLean said the society’s goal is to have the museum open on April 1, adding that once other funds are secured a celebration will be held at the building.
Betty Weeks stands in front of the former Bank of Montreal building on Charlotte Street in Sydney. Weeks, a former customer at the bank, was on hand for the announcing of $175,000 by the federal government through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s Innovative Communities Fund to help the Old Sydney Society renovate the historic building and turn it into a museum.