Funding will help preserve and restore buildings on Minister’s Island ~ Plans in place to create world-class tourist destination

Barb Rayner/Courier Renovations costing about $658,000 have already been carried out on the historic barn on Minister's Island where Sir William Van Horne kept his famous Dutch belted cattle but more work needs to be done.

Minister’s Island – The future is bright for Ministers Island.
The federal and provincial governments are contributing nearly $900,000 towards three projects designed to restore historical buildings on Minister’s Island, and to enhance tourism.

The funding was announced at a press conference Monday morning at Covenhoven, the former summer home of Sir William Van Horne, with the man himself (played by Ron Kelly-Spurles), acting as emcee for the event.
Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, John Ames, said tourism is a major component of the province’s economic vision, and a key opportunity for growth.

“The Bay of Fundy is one of New Brunswick’s gems… We have a commitment to creating an integrated world class Fundy coast experience, from Sackville to St. Stephen and the Fundy Isles that will give New Brunswick a competitive edge in the global tourism marketplace.

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“Minister’s Island is a key part of our vision for the Bay of Fundy. This project will bring more visitors, jobs, and economic growth to the renaissance we are currently witnessing through the Fundy coast.”

Major renovations have been made to the historic Maxwell barn, where Van Horne kept his famous Dutch belted cattle, to preserve and restore the silos, repair flooring and replace windows.

“Today, we are continuing the dream of Sir William Van Horne – in this idyllic place that we call Minister’s Island,” said New Brunswick Southwest MP Karen Ludwig who added that she has loved the island since first setting foot on it many years ago.

“All of us that touch Minister’s Island, and learn of its Canadian historical significance, are forever touched by the experience. This is what makes it so valuable to maintain. The restoration and sustainability of Minister’s Island have been a priority for me from day one.”

Barb Rayner/Courier
The federal and provincial governments have announced nearly $900,000 in funding to restore buildings and boost tourism on Minister’s Island. Standing on the steps of Sir William Van Horne’s summer home, Covenhoven following the announcement are (from left) chair of the board of the Van Horne Estate on Minister’s Island Brian Usher, emcee Sir William Van Horne (portrayed by Ron Kelly-Spurles), New Brunswick Southwest MP Karen Ludwig and Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage John Ames.

Ludwig said the federal government has a plan to grow Atlantic Canada, and Minister’s Island is part of that plan. She said she was proud to be part of a government that supports this national treasure.

“In Canada’s 150th year, I can think of nothing more appropriate than signalling our commitment to this important piece of Canadian history.”
Having a plan in place for the future of the island will make it a world-class tourist attraction, create jobs and many small business opportunities, said Ludwig.

“Van Horne was a railway baron, an innovator, and certainly an early green technologist. Our goal is to stay true to his vision and make this a remarkable Bay of Fundy experience that is in keeping with our heritage values.

“Heritage tourism represents a significant contributor to Canada’s economy. Tourism is a multi-billion dollar a year industry and it is estimated that cultural tourism accounts for one-third of that market.

“I am very confident that these projects will bring more visitors to our area and grow our economy. Today, the Van Horne Estate stands as an important legacy to the people of Chamcook, Saint Andrews and, in fact, our entire region.”

The federal government provided a non-repayable contribution of $239,309 through the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program as well as a cost sharing program for heritage places contribution of $100,000 through Parks Canada while the province invested $250,000 in the project.

The Van Horne Estate on Minister’s Island (VHEMI) also received $40,000 under ACOA’s Business Development Program (BDP), to develop a comprehensive business plan that identified a long term tourism development strategy for the island.

Additionally, the federal and provincial governments are also providing support to hire expertise to oversee the strategic approach and implementation of the business plan.
The federal government, through ACOA, is providing a non-repayable contribution of $145,000 under the BDP while the province is investing $125,000 in the implementation phase of this strategic approach.

Ludwig applauded all those who have worked over many years to make this dream a reality, especially the dedicated volunteers of VHEMI.
Ames said there will be direct economic benefits to the area following this funding announcement – close to 40 to 50 new jobs once this is fully operational and $1.3 million in payroll as well as jobs during the construction phase.

“I would like to think this will be a catalyst for even more economic growth and tourism for this area.”
Ames acknowledged VHEMI board chair Brian Usher’s commitment to this project and said there have been many meetings since he was elected as the riding’s MLA.
Usher said the business plan really marks the realisation of many, many years of effort on the part of not just the current board but of the past board, starting essentially in 2004.

The plan, he said, is a collaborative effort with the focus on protecting, preserving and promoting the cultural heritage and environmental features of the island.
“I think over the years there has been an effort to restore the buildings but what we lacked was really some sense of how we could keep this restoration effort going financially.”

Usher said there is a real concern by some that any development on the island will take away from the peace and solitude that exists there.

“So when we look at development we have tried to refocus on how do we move forward unobtrusively so that any developments are really out of sight.
“Anything to do with the accommodations that we’re talking about will be out of sight in the forest, completely covered so they will not impede the view of Covenhoven and the estate property. At the same time we have to look at how do you do all this and make it financially sustainable.”

Usher said the board can’t keep going back to government for more money and everything has to be, in some way, self-supporting.
“I think we’ve achieved that in the plan going forward…. We’ve got to generate funds to keep up the overall existence of the place.”

The number one commercial aspect is the building of accommodations, said Usher, which are in keeping with the overall architectural structure of the island.
He said the board is also looking at using the barn as a cultural performance space once restorations have been completed; making the trails more accessible; providing fresh produce from the gardens; and building docking facilities so the island is accessible for the times when the tides don’t allow.

“We’re at a point now where the major challenge is making it happen. This is the start of a new journey. Implementation is a multi-million dollar undertaking.
“We see it as necessary for private individuals, corporations and all different levels of government to put their heads together and see where can you actually contribute to building the kind of heritage tourism site that is possible in this location.”

The next important steps, said Usher, are the recruitment of an executive director to assist with implementation; the need to build a national board with individuals who can see the many contributions of Van Horne to Canada; and the need to increase local memberships.

“If we work together, we can make this a one-of-a-kind environmental, heritage and cultural site – a leading economically sustainable tourism destination for all of New Brunswick and for Canada.”