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Plans underway to try and save Amherst Armoury in Nova Scotia


For more than a century, the armoury in Amherst, N.S., has been a landmark – a piece of history that still has an important role today.

“When we start destroying our military history, people forget the sacrifices that was made,” said Amherst Branch 10 Legion president Lorne Baird. “They take it for granted that they could always have the freedoms they do and that’s not how it happens.”

During this year’s budget deliberations, the federal government announced it will be offloading land held by the Defence Department to make room for housing.

The Amherst Armoury made that list.

“We do need affordable housing for the community and the veterans, but it shouldn’t come, at the end of the day, at the expense of a piece of military history,” said Sgt. in Arms Justin McKay. “The Nova Scotia Highlanders, or the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, were first formed out of that armoury and over two world wars.

“Over 400 Canadians left those armouries and didn’t come home, paid with their lives for our freedom.”

Currently, the armoury is home to the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum and also hosts two cadet programs, which McKay says would have limited areas to move to if they were removed from the armoury.

“That’s a program that keeps, I’m going to say, roughly 40 kids out of trouble and it gives them a starting path towards the military, which at this point right now with recruitment levels, we need to keep those kids on that path and maybe joining the military,” he said.

“There’s a lot of artifacts up there and a lot of history so I’d like to see that preserved,” said Baird.

Amherst Mayor David Kogon was taken aback when he heard the announcement during the budget.

“We’ve had a previous agreement that the federal government promised they would do the reparations that that building needs to make it serviceable and then divested over to a not-for-profit society for the building that exist in our community,” he said.

His hope now is to turn the current structure into affordable housing aimed specifically for veterans, all while keeping the current museum and cadet program in place.

“There’s a study that’s been done on what that building needs and apparently it has said that the building is stable. It will need a lot of work, but so will demolishing the building, tearing it down to make room for housing would be a lot of work and very expensive,” said Kogon. “We have all kinds of land available and housing development available for general housing in Amherst.

“We’ve been extremely successful in getting developments in the planning stages, shovels aren’t in the ground yet, but this is a new aspect where the housing will be aimed at veterans in need.”

The town is currently working alongside Vets Canada — an organization that has seen first hand how essential affordable housing for veterans is — to create a proposal for the federal government.

“They’re dealing with all the same things that we all are but they’re also dealing with a lot of other things because of their service maybe their mental health issues or maybe they didn’t serve that long so they don’t have a huge income or pension,” said Vets Canada CEO Debbie Lowther.

She says fixing and repurposing the armoury ticks a lot of boxes and through the proposal she is hoping to get different federal departments on board, including Veterans Affairs, Infrastructure and Heritage.

“I think it’s quite feasible,” she said. “It’s always better, I think, to repurpose a building than to tear it down and start from scratch. It’s environmentally better. It’s better for the climate, so I think it is feasible and national defence has no use for the building now they do want to offload it so like I said, I think it’s a win for national defense. It’s a win for veterans, it’s a win for heritage.”

If successful, Vets Canada is hoping to see anywhere from 24-to-30 units, an office space so they can provide wraparound support for veterans and a permanent home for what already takes place inside the armoury.

“We found out like everybody else on Thursday that the federal government was planning to divest of this building and it hit home for us,” said Lowther.

Kogon says everyone with ties to the area are working towards the same goal: keeping the armoury in Amherst.

“Somethings you just can’t put a price on and we do believe that it will be feasible,” he said.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page. Top Stories


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