Nova Scotia

Amherst heritage building likely faces the wrecking ball

A provincially registered heritage property that’s been a landmark in Amherst’s downtown for more than a century could soon be history.

Mayor Rob Small says it's too expensive for town to save the red sandstone landmark

Amherst town council has voted to demolish the former Bank of Montreal building, a landmark in downtown. (CBC)

A provincially registered heritage property that's been a landmark in downtown Amherst for more than a century could soon be history.

Amherst town councillors have voted to demolish the red sandstone former Bank of Montreal building at the corner of Victoria and LaPlanche streets.

While the exterior may be a lovely reminder of town's past, the inside has been completely gutted and Mayor Rob Small says it would cost more than $500,000 to bring it up to a basic standard.

"It's a big price tag that quite frankly we can't afford," he told CBC Radio's Mainstreet.

The final decision on whether the property faces the wrecking ball is now in the hands of Nova Scotia's minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage.

The building was completed in 1906 and is constructed from distinctive red stone quarried locally. It has lofty Roman arched windows and the interior was made of mahogany.

The Bank of Montreal closed the branch in 1944. The building later housed the local police force and was eventually sold to businessman Alex Tang.

"It's a landmark building for our town, for sure," Small says.

Town bought property in 2010

In 2010, the town bought the property, along with the Dominion Public Building next door, from Tang, who was facing financial problems, for $350,000.

Small says the town's main interest was in preserving the Dominion building, which was in much better shape. After a $1 million renovation it's been converted into the town hall.

The building is little more than a stone shell after the former owner gutted it of plumbing, electrical and heating systems. (Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage)

But the former Bank of Montreal building had been gutted, Small says.

It's little more than a stone shell, and several freeze-thaw winters have caused structural and safety problems. A contractor hired last year to fix the leaky roof ultimately refused to do the job because he thought it was too dangerous. 

"There is no plumbing, heating system or electrical system in the building as this infrastructure was scavenged by the previous owner," says a report that went to Amherst town council on Monday.

"Every day more sand can be seen on the adjacent sidewalk as the wind and rain continue to erode the once proud sandstone walls."

Small says the town has tried to find a new owner or tenant. They've contacted federal and provincial governments, but were told there's no money available for the kind of fix the building needs.

The town has looked to the public and local business for suggestions. There have been some, Small says, but the problem is they come without any funding.

The mayor even contacted the Bank of Montreal, but says he got no response.

"Oh my goodness, what haven't we done," he says of efforts to save the building.

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