After five months of living in the house I recently bought in Cornwallis Park, I am gradually beginning to feel like I have come home. It’s always a challenge to put down roots in a new place for me even though I have moved more than twenty times in this lifetime. Although change doesn’t bother me as in adopting new beliefs, having to physically pull up my roots to replant them elsewhere is more of a challenge. Although I love to travel and see as much of the world as I can, it did teach me that a true nomad, I am not. Establishing a home base, a place I can always come home to, is a must.
In less than a month, this community has lost not only its shopping centre, the Basin View Centre, but its very heartbeat sending the people into a state of shock. Gone is their grocery store, their YMCA with a ‘state of the art’ swimming pool, hairdresser, pizzaria, ATM, and other amenities. Even though rumours had been surfacing for some time about the leaking and erosion of the foundation upon which the pool was built and the numerous inspections carried out by engineers to solve the problem, the news of the closing came as a total shock and much anger. Any information coming from the County Council during the years they were responsible for the Centre’s maintenance was minimal at best. There was no indication ever given that the problem couldn’t be solved until mid May when the tenants were told that they had just 30 days to vacate the premises. The reason given was that no insurance companies would insure them because of the building’s unsafe condition.
For three or more generations this community has faced promising beginnings only to be confronted with their endings. Nevertheless, through it all they have survived. Let’s go back in time to get a sense of how the past has led them to this present day mess with the closing of their Centre.
Unlike the majority of Nova Scotia’s villages and towns whose ancestry dates back to the late 1700’s or 1800’s, Cornwallis Park is the new kid on the block with its beginnings originating in the 1940’s during the second world war when a naval base was built by the Canadian Government as a training centre for the recruits called up to serve overseas. Up to this point, Halifax was favoured as the best location because of its harbour and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and Europe. However, there were some who thought the base needed to be built in another part of the province to sort of spread things out a bit. With the tireless efforts of a local MLA and Minister of Finance, JL Ilsley, the Fundy Basin with its high tides was chosen as the best choice. Thus, the construction of HMCS Cornwallis was begun with the erection of the officers’ quarters, housing for the seamen, as well as the Wrens, followed by the married couples’ houses and duplexes which were built on the hill across the road the base. Cornwallis eventually became the largest base in the British Empire.
After the war was over, the base continued to carry on as a training centre but at a greatly reduced capacity. There was a definite lull in activity for all of Annapolis County until the government could decide just what to do with this base with the “million dollar view” as it had been dubbed. Finally in 1968 when it was officially named CFB Cornwallis, the Feds decided that the navy, army, and air force would be united into one entity. While many of the bases in other parts of the country were closed down, Cornwallis had survived to carry on as the training centre for the English contingent while the French division went to St. Jean, Quebec. However, the sad reality of what was eventually in store for this base occurred in 1994 when the Feds decommissioned even more military bases, this time including Cornwallis. Canada had gradually taken on their role as a keeper of peace… a choice which became a bitter pill for this area to swallow. It was a devastating blow to the economy and well being of not only the base but the entire area. The question of the day was would what was left survive or would it become a ghost town?
Maybe it was its location or the sheer tenacity of the people who lived in this beautiful, unspoiled part of Nova Scotia, but Cornwallis managed to survive. In any event, the Federal government transferred the property to the provincial government who in turn put it into the hands of a local developing company named the Cornwallis Park Development Authority. The married couples quarters with its tiny houses and duplexes on the hill were sold off to civilians for very reasonable prices. It was marketed as “a great retirement centre with a million dollar view” and became what is today called Cornwallis Park.
Since then various business and industrial enterprises have been attracted to the area utilising the existing base buildings. Acadian Seaplants is one of the largest and most successful industries. This company has been harvesting and manufacturing seaweed from the Fundy Basin since 2014 and has become a leader in sustainability as a supplier of essential nutrients to plants, animals and people. They now ship to about 80 countries around the world and have plans to double their workforce using the latest in technology. You can find out more about them by clicking on this URL: http://www.acadianseaplants.com
With the advent of Canada’s efforts to focus on keeping peace rather than to get embroiled in any kind of war effort, the Federal Government helped set up the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre on the former base. Again the purpose was to train military personnel around the world in the art of peacekeeping to honour Lester B pearson, Canada’s Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968 and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. The Pearson Centre thrived up until 2011 when having served its purpose, it was closed. However, by this time other companies had located here including the YMCA. Add to this an onslaught of 1,000 sea cadets from across Canada arriving every summer for their training, it was enough to give the people of this area hope that Cornwallis could survive. The demise of the Peace Centre was a gradual one and with other industries locating here that loss wasn’t as devastating as the loss of the Basinview Centre.
When the news of the Centre’s closing had sunk in, I decided to take a closer look at what was once the base where you can still find most of the original buildings. Many are needing repair, but I couldn’t help see the potential that this piece of land holds for someone who has the money to invest in it. Thus, with my camera in hand, I set off for a lengthy walk. It was one of those perfect days with clear blue sky and water, lush greenery after a substantial but gentle rain the night before, and a comfortable temperature after a string of hot sticky days. All was eerily quiet, however. The parking lot at the Centre was empty…not a person or car in sight. Normally it was a beehive of activity on Sundays for such a small community with a full parking lot for those who had to pick up a few groceries, pick up their mail, to workout in the gym, do a few kilometers around the walking track, or to bring their kids to the pool for a swim. There were always various pool activities for the children and during the week, courses galore for fitness and meditation.
Eventually, I saw some men in the distance who looked like the groundskeepers having their lunch. It had to be them because the grounds are meticulously kept. As I approached what used to be the Military Museum and before that a church, I noticed three people chatting outside. I had heard that the building had been bought by a local artist, entrepreneur, and promoter of Folk Art so wanting to learn more about how his project was coming along, I decided to join them. The news was encouraging especially at this time. “Yes”, I thought, here was a door opening after the one which had just closed. Mr. Tripp, the man at the helm, has big plans for the community. A strong believer that art is for everyone, he will be opening up his gallery this summer to 20 local artists and artisans to begin. Each artist will have their own room to display their creations. There will be classes and lectures on all genres of artistic creativity, such as rug hooking, quilt making, woodwork, jewellery making and just about anything made by creative hands. Furthermore, the best news of all is his plan to open up a cafe for coffee and lunch. We have nothing here where people can go and meet up with one another so this will be most welcome. Further down the road, he envisions an outdoor restaurant with a wine bar on a patio overlooking the Fundy Basin. We can certainly use that especially now when we have many new buyers coming from BC and Ontario looking for affordable housing in a ready made community.
There are still other points of attraction to be found here. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Annapolis Basin Conference Centre (ABCC). Before COVID, ABCC provided a lovely place for tourists to spend a night and experience delicious meals. However, it was primarily a popular place for conferences and wedding receptions which hopefully it will again. In the meantime, I was surprised to hear that the facility is being used this year to provide meals for the immigrants who are being housed in nearby buildings where they are isolating until they can go to the farms in the Upper Valley where they will be employed for the summer. Our province depends heavily on their expertise in getting strawberries, apples, and other fruits harvested for shipment to other parts of the world.
Finally, I have found out that staff from the YMCA are already preparing their fall program for sessions of yoga, pilates, and meditation, and other activities for those of us who want to keep ourselves healthy in mind and body. They are fixing up one of the many vacant buildings with a plan to open in the fall. Since my self- conducted tour of the what was once the base, I have also heard that this energetic staff are now raising funds to provide the children with a summer camp experience they won’t forget.
Perhaps the most astounding news to this never ending story of beginnings for Cornwallis was released last week: a buyer has been found for the Centre. Yes, the Council have come through and found one, but the question which has yet to be answered is it as good as it sounds? Those longer term residents believe that it was a hasty decision made by a Council who want to get rid of its responsibility for the Centre’s maintenance. So far all reports we have been hearing about this new buyer aren’t favourable with too many promises being made which may never be delivered unless the buyer has bags of money.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t unfolding as a ‘happily ever after’ one. There is more information needed at least for the Concerned Citizens of the Basin View Centre, a group that was hastily thrown together thanks to Facebook when the news came out that the centre was closing.
I have been following them and talking to the people who started it, and all I can say is that unless we can get more favourable information on the buyer, it isn’t looking too promising. On a positive note this could be another hoped for beginning after an abrupt ending, but it could just as well be another ending with a story to be continued….