Nova Scotia

Former Sydney convent to become $12M arts and culture centre

The province is contributing $3.2 million to transform former Holy Angels Convent.

Province contributing $3.2 million to transform former Holy Angels Convent

The Holy Angels Convent building is 130 years old. (Holly Conners/CBC)

The former Holy Angels Convent in Sydney is taking on a new life as arts and culture centre.

Premier Stephen McNeil announced $3.2 million in provincial funding Tuesday for the project, and said the renovation will transform the convent building into a hub for culture and innovation.

"What's been missing in many parts of our community has been that incubation centre, has been that home, that place where the artisans, where the young people who have an idea about how do I take this innovation to the marketplace, for them to collaborate with other young bright minds," McNeil said.

This is what the arts and cultural centre is expected to look like once it is complete. (DTAH and Trifos)

It's news Joella Foulds, chair of the mayor's roundtable on arts and culture for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, has been waiting for a long time.

For the past 30 years, local people have been championing the need for an arts and culture centre for the area, she said.

Joella Foulds with Premier Stephen McNeil. (Holly Conners/CBC)

"We have tremendous creative talent out there, and they did not have places to work together, to learn together, to develop. And this is going to change all that," Foulds said.

The 40,000-square-foot building is 130 years old and the plan is to maintain its exterior heritage appearance while completely renovating the interior.

The new space will include small studios and offices for artists and startups, as well as some shared workshop and gallery space, said Erika Shea, a spokesperson for the New Dawn Centre for Social Innovation, which is contributing $1 million to the work.

Erika Shea, New Dawn's vice-president of development, says the agency does not want to replace any of the property's green space with asphalt to add parking. (Holly Conners/CBC)

The total cost of the project is $12 million. Shea said she hopes the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Canadian Heritage will come through with the rest.

It is hoped the new Cape Breton Centre for Arts, Culture and Innovation will be open by late 2018.

The goal is to have the new Cape Breton Centre for Arts, Culture and Innovation open by late 2018. (DTAH and Trifos)

Meanwhile, Foulds said existing arts and culture hubs — including the New Dawn Centre for Innovation, the Highland Arts Centre and the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design — are already creating a tangible vibe in the downtown.

"Everyone is talking about it," she said. "How exciting it is that we've got music to go to, we've got theatre to go to, we've got art exhibits to go to.

"We've got so many things that are making our lives rich and that are bringing people out of the woodwork, and bringing people together, and making people want to live here."


Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at