October 1, 2020 – Ottawa – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces
Built in 1915, the Amherst armoury is located in Amherst, N.S., and was used by the Nova Scotia Highlanders until 2015. The army reserve unit now operates and trains out of the Pictou, Truro, and Springhill armouries, which better meet their operational needs. As such, the Amherst armoury was declared surplus to the military’s needs in 2016. The armoury continues to be used by local cadet groups for training, and houses the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum. The building is also open to the public for community gatherings.
Temporary closure in summer 2020
In recent months, we have been assessing the condition of the property. One of those studies identified structural issues with the building’s towers that could potentially have posed safety issues to people on the property. Out of an abundance of caution, and in the interest of maximum safety, we temporarily closed the armoury from mid-July to late September 2020 so that we could confirm the findings of this report, and identify next steps to fix any safety issues.
The armoury and museum were closed to the community while this engineering review was underway. This temporary closure did not affect cadet training, as cadets are not currently parading in the armoury due to COVID-19. The temporary closure was a surprise to the community; this was our mistake. Information on the closure was not sent to everyone who uses the armoury at the same time.
On September 30, we reopened the armoury to the community, including access to the museum and for small community gatherings, such as weekly veteran meetings. COVID-19 health and safety guidelines remain in place for everyone entering the building.
Recent work on the armoury
Over the last month, we worked with an engineering firm to reassess the structure of the armoury and secure the building’s towers. This review found the towers to be structurally stable; however, given their deterioration and local weather conditions, we took extra steps to protect the public from possible falling debris by adding new safety features before reopening the building. This included restricting access to the area located at the front of the building and inside the towers, installing temporary covers above the side entrances to the facility, expanding the fencing around the armoury, and reducing the building occupancy limit to account for these changes. These additional safety measures ensured that we could safely reopen part of the armoury for limited community use.
Over the coming weeks, we will also work with the museum staff and cadet groups’ leadership to relocate their offices and items stored in and near the towers to other areas of the building. By the end of January 2021, we expect to install more permanent covers above the side entrances to the building to ensure safe access year-round, particularly during the winter. We will continue to keep building users and the community informed about any other work planned for the armoury.
Results of recent engineering assessments
A recent third-party engineering report found the overall condition of the armoury and its major building systems (architectural, structural, mechanical, and electrical) ranges from good to poor condition. While the building’s sandstone towers are in poor condition, their support cables were tightened in summer 2020 to remain secure. The engineering assessment also found that a number of repairs will be needed within the next 10 years, as various parts of the building reach the end of their useful life.
While we always ensure that buildings are safe before we transfer or sell them to a new owner, it is too early to know the extent of the restoration and repair work that we will make to this building. Our priority is investing in properties that meet the needs of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). By transferring or selling properties that are no longer used by CAF members, we are reducing our operating costs and reinvesting them in operational facilities that support our personnel.
Future of the Amherst armoury
We are committed to ensuring that our infrastructure portfolio is operationally effective, affordable, and environmentally sustainable. While a decision has not been made on the future of the Amherst armoury, we are carrying out various site assessments and consulting interested parties, as we evaluate the armoury for possible transfer or sale to a new owner.
Before making any decisions on a property we no longer need, we always consult with many potentially interested parties, including Indigenous groups, other federal departments, and provincial and municipal governments. These discussions can take time, but ensure that we fully consider and respect everyone’s interests before making a final decision. This same process is being followed for the Amherst armoury.
We know how valuable and important the armoury is to the community of Amherst, which is why we are continuing our discussions with the municipality and other parties that have an interest in the future of the building. Over the next year, we will also focus on completing our site assessments (building condition, heritage, security, environmental, and market-value reviews) to ensure that we have a full understanding of the costs associated with this property. These are responsible and prudent measures that help ensure that potential future owners of the building are aware of the ownership costs.
All of these site assessments and considerations from interested parties will be factored into our final decision on whether to transfer or sell the property. We are confident that they will help us make an informed decision that reflects the importance of the armoury in the region, and preserves our military history and heritage for future generations. While it is too early to know when this work will be completed, we look forward to sharing updates as discussions progress.