St. Stephen – An idea which began almost eight years ago may finally come to fruition.
St. Stephen could become home to a unique sports tourism attraction – the development of property containing the oldest remaining original basketball court in the world.
An announcement was made this week of an agreement in principle reached between Canada 1st Basketball Inc. (C1BI) and St. Croix Vocational Centre Inc. (SCVC) supporting the purchase and development of an historic property on King St. by C1BI.
The property is significant because the third floor gymnasium in the town’s former YMCA building – now used for storage by SCVC’s thrift store – is believed to be the oldest remaining original basketball court in the world.
Peter Corby, a spokesperson for the C1BI, expressed his gratitude to SCVC for opening the doors to a dream his group has had for several years.
“We know this decision was not taken lightly by SCVC, and that there is still a great deal of work to be done by both groups to make this a ‘win-win’.”
Corby said his group sees the agreement as a fantastic step forward. “Our organization is prepared to accept the challenge of creating a significant legacy to the history of the sport of basketball not only in Canada but in North America and the world.”
Tony Whittaker noted on behalf of the SCVC board of directors that they are equally pleased with this initial step, recognizing the importance of the agreement and the work ahead.
“The SCVC Thrift Store has such a positive history with the community of St. Stephen and beyond, and it’s vital to our mandate.”
The next step in the process is to develop a business plan, being undertaken by Vaughn McIntyre Consulting of Saint Andrews, which will find a new site for the thrift store while building on the organization’s capacity to meet its core service mandate.
The plan is scheduled for release in June.
“It’s an exciting time for both SCVC and Canada 1st Basketball and a very important step forward for the community as a whole,” said Whittaker.
A special event and progress update is being planned for Oct. 17 of this year, the 125th anniversary of the first basketball game on this court between a team from St. Stephen and Calais, Me. A news item obtained from The Saint Croix Courier dated Oct. 17, 1893, contains note of the game played then at what was the St. Stephen YMCA.
That building became a pharmacy and then Parsons Printing House and later, the SCVC Thrift Store, which still operates there today. After a fire in 2010, attention was focused on the fact the gymnasium floor was intact, and undamaged by the fire.
A recent study confirmed the historic significance of the property, and described the potential for a Basketball Heritage Museum. This also came at a time when St. Croix Vocational Centre, which provides employment opportunities for adults with challenges, was evaluating the need for more space to accommodate the Thrift Store.
Whittaker said it was decided that, contingent on development of an alternative site, this would be an opportunity for SCVC to evolve the Thrift Store operation and contribute back to the St. Stephen community by giving Canada 1st Basketball the opportunity to preserve and celebrate this piece of sporting history.
Saint Croix MLA John Ames, who is also New Brunswick Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, said he was proud of the work done by the two groups on a project he supports and believes in, noting its potential to “draw more visitors, and aid in our collective effort to keep them longer.”
“There are many interesting aspects of a court with nostalgia and historic accolades that will no doubt bring basketball and sports enthusiasts from all around.”
Ames said there was much more to gain than just civic pride, and felt the project was an opportunity to bolster further economic and social conditions for the entire community.