Stompin' Tom Centre plans 'on hold'

Plans for a $1.9-million Stompin' Tom Connors commemoration project in Skinners Pond, P.E.I., have been put on hold — for now — after an expected $350,000 in funding from Heritage Canada was denied.

Tignish Initiatives says project ‘may not happen at all’ after federal funding denied

Stompin' Tom Connors, seen here performing during the 2008 NHL Awards, died in 2013. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images for NHL)

Plans for a $1.9-million Stompin' Tom Connors commemoration project on the western tip of P.E.I. have been put on hold — for now.

Officials with Tignish Initiatives — the community development organization behind the Skinners Pond, P.E.I., project — say an expected $350,000 in funding from Heritage Canada was denied.

Everyone's a bit frustrated. But everyone's hands are tied until we find out what we have to work with.— Anne Arsenault, general manage of Tignish Initiatives

Officials say a consultant is reviewing the feasibility of going ahead with the centre without the funding.

"We know the project will be scaled back, it's just a matter of how much," said Anne Arsenault, general manage of Tignish Initiatives.

"There's potential that it may not happen because, you know, our board still has to decide once the consultant's finished whether they feel they should still move forward with the project."

With the future of the centre uncertain, she said, community members as well as Stompin' Tom's family and friends are disappointed.

"It's been a bit of a process to get to this point, and now to find we're looking at a scaled back version which we don't know what exactly it will be yet, everyone's a bit frustrated," she said.

"But everyone's hands are tied until we find out what we have to work with."

The country-folk legend and Canadian cultural icon was known for his toe-tapping songs. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

'We were very hopeful'

The project, plans for which were unveiled in July, was to commemorate the life and legacy of the Canadian singing icon, who died in 2013 at the age of 77. The centre was to include Stompin' Tom's boyhood home and school, plus a 4,000-square-foot multi-use cultural centre. It was slated to open on July 1, 2016.

When the project was announced, Arsenault said, $1.6 million from the the province, ACOA and Tignish Initiatives had been secured.

The only question mark, she said, was the $350,000 her group had applied for through Canadian Heritage's Canada Cultural Spaces Fund.

With a federal election underway, the group knew it would have to wait until the fall for an answer, but Arsenault said she was confident enough to carry on with the announcement.

"I don't think you can ever have assurance until a contract is actually signed, but we were very hopeful and, you know, we were getting positive feedback that things were going to move forward," said Arsenault.

"As far as local support and political support at the time, it was there and it sounded like things were going to move forward."

But in November, Arsenault said, Canadian Heritage rejected the funding application because the Canadian Cultural Spaces Funding is earmarked for arts or heritage organizations, and Tignish Initiatives is neither.

"It was a bit of a technicality," Arsenault said.

"Tignish Initiatives is a community development organization, and although we didn't have a strict mandate of heritage and culture, we have played a  very important role in the community since our establishment in 1993. But because it wasn't strictly identified in our mandate, that's what was unfortunate for us."

The 4,000-square-foot Stompin' Tom Centre and Schoolhouse was to commemorate the life and legacy of the Canadian singing icon. (The Canadian Press)

Criteria should have been 'clarified'

Egmont's new MP, Liberal Robert Morrissey, assumed when the project was announced that all the funding was in place.

He said Tignish Initiatives should have been told it didn't qualify for the funding before the election call and the project unveiling.

"This was just not a new criteria thought up a week or two after the election. Heritage Canada has criteria in place and they have for some time," said Morrissey.

"And since they were significant funding partner, I would've assumed that would have been clarified prior to an announcement."

When Canadian Heritage denied the funding application in November, he said, ACOA indicated plans to back away from its $1.25 million commitment, saying the federal agency's criteria indicates that all other funding be secured before the project  goes ahead.

But Morrissey said he met with ACOA and talked the agency into staying on board.

"This project would have been dead only for my intervention with ACOA at this stage to say, 'No, I supported this project and want you to take a look at it,'" said Morrissey.

ACOA agreed, Morrissey said, but only on the condition that Tignish Initiatives hire a consultant to see whether the centre is still feasible without the $350,000.

The consultant's report is expected to be completed by the end of February.

He was dubbed Stompin' Tom for his propensity to pound the floor with his left foot during performances. (CBC/Canadian Press)


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