After 31 years as Saint John’s Cultural Affairs Officer, Bernard Cormier is set to retire.

"It's like your hobby becoming your work,” says Cormier. “I've never really looked at my job as being an occupation… I've looked at it more as being a vacation because I was so passionate about the arts."

There wasn’t a Harbour Station, theatre company or Imperial Theatre being used when Cormier stepped into his role in 1987.

"We were really fortunate to have so many years of Bernie,” says Angela Campbell of the Imperial Theatre. “Those vital start-up years and using his expertise and relying on his knowledge and his passion for the cultural community in Saint John."

Cormier is involved with 55 organizations and has organized over 240 exhibitions at the Saint John Arts Centre. His latest was a four-year-old painter from India, who will soon be featured in New York City.

“It wouldn't have happened unless I was Cultural Affairs Officer, because I had access to the city gallery which was a program of my office,” Cormier says.

One of his greatest accomplishments was when the federal government named Saint John the cultural capital of Canada in 2010.

"That gave us another extra push to do more," says Cormier.

With a military background, one of Cormier's strengths is organization. He's put that to good use by arranging for high-level dignitaries to visit the city, including the royal family.

The Saint John String Quartet became artists and residents at the University of New Brunswick Saint John with Cormier's assistance. They now perform all over the world.

"At that time, Saint John's campus didn't have any musical outlet. It didn't have any musical influences," says David Campbell of the Saint John String Quartet. "That's quite a good achievement for the university to have a cultural asset at the university."

As Cormier approaches retirement, there is still a great deal of concern from the community arts board. Part of his job allows him to apply for government grants for various festivals and projects.

Given the city's financial challenges, there was talk of not replacing him at all.

"When you have a dedicated role of somebody like Bernie, it also creates economic development. And economic development is something our city desperately needs," says Shannon Merryfield of the arts board.

"It's so important to the vitality of our community. The arts and culture need to be thriving," says David Campbell.

Cormier believes his position will be transferred from corporate services to growth and community development.

“For the interim period, maybe perhaps the next three to six months, there will be people in the growth and community development office that will deal with various aspects of what I did and try to sort that out once they hire someone more permanently,” says Cormier. 

Despite that being a difficult task, Cormier is confident arts and culture will continue to thrive in Canada's oldest incorporated city.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mary Cranston.