Nova Scotia

Local politicians 'blindsided' by emergency closure of Amherst Armoury

Local politicians in Amherst, N.S., say residents were stunned when the federal government ordered the armoury to abruptly close on Tuesday.

MP Lenore Zann says DND assured her Thursday that the closure is temporary

People who work inside the historic building were told on Tuesday to vacate the building immediately because it is unsafe. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

Local politicians in Amherst, N.S., say residents were stunned when the federal government ordered the armoury to abruptly close on Tuesday, creating another unknown for the future of a building that they've been fighting to save for years.

Workers in the Nova Scotia Highlanders Museum, which is located in the armoury, were told to vacate the building immediately because it is unsafe.

"It obviously is not OK. It's not acceptable," said Lenore Zann, the MP for Cumberland-Colchester, which includes Amherst. "I was shocked, completely blindsided."

She said staff were supposed to have been informed weeks before they received the phone call.

"When I found that out, I immediately called [the Department of National Defence] myself and asked for a copy of the report that says it's unsafe."

Closure will be temporary, says Zann

A statement from the Department of National Defence acknowledged that staff were not properly told of the issue.

"As part of ongoing work to assess the building's condition, a recent third-party engineering study found issues with the structural integrity of the building's towers," the department said.

"We recognize this communication error and we will ensure our communications with all building occupants are improved in the future."

Lenore Zann, MP for Cumberland-Colchester, said the closure is unacceptable and people are fighting it. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

Zann said she called a number of people at DND on Thursday and was eventually told that the closure will be temporary.

"I have been told by my government that the building is safe. It will be protected and they will pay to repair the building," Zann told CBC's News at Six on Thursday.

She said she still wants to see a copy of the report that outlines the safety concerns with the building.

'We're not going to stand for it'

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, MLA for Cumberland North, said she's been asking for similar information for three years, and she's not convinced there's anything wrong with the building.

Like Zann, she said she was blindsided by the decision this week to abruptly shutter the armoury.

"It is suspicious in my mind," she told CBC's Maritime Noon earlier on Thursday. "They've provided no proof that the building is unsafe. People use that building every day. It is a beautiful, strong, amazing structure and we're not going to stand for it."

Smith-McCrossin said shortly after she was elected, the federal government talked about divesting the building, which was met with outcry from community members. 

MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin said the community has been asking for details about the building for three years, but hasn't received anything. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

"Over $200 million was invested into the armouries in Halifax, while a decision was made by the federal government to divest and take away investment in our community and town of Amherst, and we're not happy with that," she said.

Zann and Smith McCrossin say the armoury is a vital part of Amherst's history. The building is over 100 years old and was home to the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regiment.

Aside from the museum, the cadets typically use the building, but haven't been recently because of COVID-19.

"This armoury has incredible history and heritage. It also is being actively used by the cadets, the youth of today," Smith-McCrossin said.

Town should develop building, says MP

Zann said once the federal government is done with repairs, she hopes the town can develop the building, similar to what was done with the Old Normal College in Truro.

"It's now our library and there's a beautiful free skating rink in front of it," she said. "It's become a thriving downtown core."

The statement from DND indicates that could be an option. 

"We understand the value and importance of the building to the local community and are committed to maintaining an open dialogue to ensure we consider and respect its interests."

A rally is planned for outside the armoury tonight.

With files from CBC's Maritime Noon and Amy Smith

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