Nova Scotia

Western Union building in North Sydney comes down

For more than a century, the stone building in North Sydney with walls a metre thick and a copper roof was known for its history of receiving and transmitting happy announcements, top-secret messages and heartbreaking notifications.

Owner Gerard Dugas says he had no other option but to demolish the deteriorating building

The Western Union Cable building on Court Street in North Sydney was torn down Monday. (George Mortimer/CBC)

For more than a century, a massive stone building with walls a metre thick and a copper roof was known for its history of receiving and transmitting happy announcements, top-secret messages and heartbreaking notifications.

When it opened in 1914 a few blocks from the waterfront in North Sydney, N.S., the Western Union Cable building was the most modern operation of the telegraph company's 14,000 offices around the world.

On Monday, after being boarded up for nearly 20 years, the mammoth structure on Court Street came crashing down.

In 1966, Western Union sold the the building to St. Joseph's Parish for $30,000 to be used as a parish centre after telegraphs lost their status as a primary source of fast, long-distance communication.

The roof of the Western Union Cable building on Court Street in North Sydney can be seen being torn off during demolition Monday. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Owner Gerard Dugas, who bought the property in 1988, tried numerous times over the years to either develop the site or find a buyer.

"I had a plan to develop the building into businesses downstairs and maybe a museum upstairs. Because the building is in a residential area, [the plan] was rejected," he said.

No options left

He wasn't successful in selling the building either and as the structure deteriorated, he had no choice but to choose a third option — demolition.

"The liability of ownership is if you're not going to develop it or fix it up ... it had no choice but to come down," said Dugas.

A few months ago, he held a public meeting to discuss the future of the building. He didn't find a solution there either.

Dugas said he will now make use of the land for residential housing.

The Western Union Cable building in North Sydney looked like this around the time it opened in 1914. (North Sydney Historical Museum)

'Terrible shame'

There was a crowd watching the demolition Monday.

"I think it's a terrible shame," said Norm MacMillian. "Anything that's of any value in North Sydney is being torn down."

He said it was a sad situation "for this building, what it means to the town and what it did mean for the town in the early days of the war."

With files from George Mortimer