Heritage group president against saving historic bank in Bathurst

A group of Bathurst businesspeople, engineers, and architects are working together to save the city's old Bank of Montreal building, destroyed by fire in November, but local historian Jessica Ryan says it's not worth it.

Bank of Montreal restoration would be too costly, says local historian, but MLA disagrees

The Bank of Montreal building in Bathurst was destroyed by fire in late November. (CBC)

A group of Bathurst businesspeople, engineers, and architects is working together to save the city's old Bank of Montreal building, destroyed by fire in November, but local historian Jessica Ryan says it's not worth it.

Ryan, the president of the Bathurst Heritage Trust Commission, said she agrees it is a heritage building, but she feels it just isn't worth the money to repair the extensive damage, and says it should be torn down.

Jessica Ryan, President of the Bathurst Heritage Trust Commission, doesn't think the Bank of Montreal building is worth saving. (CBC)
"It is more realistic because of the cost," said Ryan.

"To leave what is standing now, and try to build new stone walls, I can't see it at all, I really can't. And most of the people that I talk to feel exactly the same."

The building, built in 1919 with a Quebec limestone facade, is beloved by many in Bathurst.

The Nov. 28 fire that destroyed its interior and roof also razed two other downtown buildings, housing a pet shop and a popular restaurant.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but was deemed "suspicious" by local police.

Progress being made to save structure

Local MLA Brian Kenny formed the committee, aiming to save the historic Bank of Montreal building by raising funds and drawing up an action plan.

He says progress is being made, and hopes an option to save part of the building is viable.

November's fire gutted the old bank building, and destroyed two other buildings. (CBC)
"I have been working with City Hall and possible developers to look at all options with the goal of saving the facade and exterior of this building and working it into a new development on the corner of King and Main," said Kenny via email.

Kenny believes people would prefer to see the front of the building saved.

"Many citizens, business people, masonry experts, contractors, architects, engineers, etc. have all expressed their expert opinions that while the easy way is to knock it down and haul the debris to the landfill, keeping some of the history of downtown Bathurst incorporated into something new adds a real flavor," he wrote. 

Kenny says the structure is sound, based on consultations with local contractors and architects.

Demolition order issued

The City of Bathurst, concerned with the safety of citizens and the sidewalk surrounding the corner building, has issued a demolition order to the building's owners.

The old bank has been repossessed, and wasn't covered by insurance.

Kenny has called it a "no man's land situation," since no one is responsible for its restoration.

"This is a difficult period and will take some time to work through," he said.  "We have to respect this and at the same time look at possibilities for the future. Working this important piece of our past into a new development would be ideal and that's what I am trying to facilitate with like-minded people, turning a negative into a positive."

"Once it's gone, it's gone, so let's take some time to look at all the options. The last thing anyone wants to see is another empty parking lot for the next 20 years."  

Historic crest

Jessica Ryan is most interested in saving the crest on the front of the bank building. (CBC)
There's one piece of the building Jessica Ryan is passionate about saving — the crest at the very top of the building's front.

It's a design that is the same as was featured in the Bank of Montreal's headquarters in Montreal, and incorporated elements that recognized local First Nations.

"What I would like to see happen, if they're going to tear the rest of this down, which I hope they do, that this crest does not get damaged in any way," said Ryan. "In another year or two it will be 100 years a part of Bathurst, and I think that that crest would be very nicely mounted on the grounds at the Bathurst Heritage Museum."

Kenny says that his preference is to the see the crest still in its place on the facade of the building, as part of a new development for the city.


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