Town of Lunenburg notified Parks Canada of intention to divest Lunenburg Academy in 2022, letter reveals



(The Lunenburg Academy Building in March 2023. Photo: Jesse Ward)

This is a developing story. This story was updated at 9:45 a.m. AT, April 7 to include details about the Lunenburg Academy Foundation publishing a notice in 2022 that they were surprised to received a letter of intent from the Town of Lunenburg to sell them the Academy.

The Town of Lunenburg sent a letter to Parks Canada stating they are interested in divesting the Lunenburg Academy for private development and consider this a “high priority” in April 2022.

A freedom of information request fulfilled by Parks Canada for The Barnacle returned a letter attributed to Arthur MacDonald, Heritage Manager for the Town of Lunenburg, sent to Parks Canada on April 1, 2022.

“This letter shall serve notice to Parks Canada, that the Town of Lunenburg is interested in divesting land holdings that may have an impact on the Old Town Lunenburg WHS,” reads the letter. (“WHS” refers to the town’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)

“A list of potential sites to be divested are further described on the following pages and are considered to be a high priority for Council.”

One site mentioned is the Lunenburg Academy at 97 Kaulbach Street. The letter notes this lot would be divested for private development. The property in question is approximately 4.9 acres and includes the Academy Building as well as the surrounding land up to the nearby roads and Gallows Hill cemetery.

The full text of the letter that precedes the listing of properties the town is interested in divesting reads:

“This letter shall serve notice to Parks Canada, that the Town of Lunenburg is interested in divesting land holdings that may have an impact on the Old Town Lunenburg WHS. A list of potential sites to be divested are further described on the following pages and are considered to be a high priority for Council.

We would be very interested in obtaining any comments or concerns you may have with regards to the possible divestiture of these sites.

Though Council has not formerly passed any resolutions to proceed with the divestitures, they are interested in proceeding with Request for Proposals (RFP’s) for development schemes.

If you have any questions, please contact me at your conveience.

Thank you for your cooperation and assistance.

With best regards,

Arthur MacDonald
Heritage Manager”

There is no apparent indication that the Town has publicly announced any present or past intention to divest the Lunenburg Academy. The Town’s Comprehensive Community Plan published in September 2020 only lists one future scenario for the Lunenburg Academy: “Library, community rentals, tourist attraction”. The plan does not mention any possibility of divesting the land.

Town preparing response to questions

The Barnacle obtained this letter on April 6 and emailed questions to Michael Best, Communication Officer with the Town of Lunenburg, the same day. Best replied saying it will take some time to gather the information necessary to respond.

The Barnacle asked whether the intention to divest this land still stands, whether the town is currently preparing an RFP related to divestment of the land as the letter from April 2022 indicated they would, and whether what appear to be survey stakes lining the perimeter of the Academy lot today are related to any potential plan to divest the land.

Parks Canada is the federal agency responsible for administering UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada, including Old Town Lunenburg, which has the Academy Building in its heritage “buffer zone”.

The Town of Lunenburg submits notices to Parks Canada regarding any potential activity that could affect property factoring into Lunenburg’s UNESCO heritage site or buffer zone, and Parks Canada submits an annual State of Conservation report to UNESCO listing any possible developments that could affect the standing of UNESCO sites in Canada.

The Lunenburg Academy, often referred to as “the Castle on the Hill” by locals, is one of the most well-recognized symbols of Lunenburg. Built between 1893-1895 and serving as a school until 2012, the massive three-story Victorian building is currently host to the Lunenburg Library, the Lunenburg Academy of Musical Performance, and other community organizations.

Other land holdings announced as sites of interest for divestment as a “high priority” in the letter are:

– the town’s lot on Upper King Street, which had an RFP for potential housing development design scenarios awarded to ZZAP Consulting Inc. in September 2022

Blockhouse Hill, which had an RFP for potential housing development design scenarios close on March 31

– the “Lincoln Street Parking Lot” at PID 60062148

An additional letter from MacDonald to Parks Canada lists these two land holdings as sites of interest that are “not considered high priority”:

– the “Old Fire Hall Station” at 40 Duke Street

– “The Armories” building at 177 Cumberland Street

All of these lands but the Lunenburg Academy site have previously been publicly discussed by the town as potentially being considered for divestment.

Lunenburg Academy Foundation announced in 2022 they were surprised to receive a Letter of Intent to sell the Academy from the town

The town’s intention to sell the property was announced in the 2022 edition of The Scribbler, the annual newsletter published by the Lunenburg Academy Foundation (LAF), a non-profit organization with a mission statement to care for, restore and preserve the Academy.

The letter that opens the newsletter is by Rachel Bailey, Director of the Board of LAF and former Mayor of Lunenburg.

The letter begins with an announcement the LAF was surprised to get a letter from the Town of Lunenburg in April 2022 offering sale of the Academy Building:

“We were surprised in April 2022 to receive a Letter of Intent from the Town of Lunenburg to Offer Sale of the Lunenburg Academy to the Lunenburg Academy Foundation. The new slate of Directors, who took office at the AGM that same month, now has this exciting and daunting new opportunity to consider. A feasibility study will be undertaken to figure out what is possible and what will best serve our beloved Castle on the Hill for the long term.”

The Barnacle has reached out to the LAF for comment.


Comments

15 responses to “Town of Lunenburg notified Parks Canada of intention to divest Lunenburg Academy in 2022, letter reveals”

  1. Janet Corkum

    Lunenburg Barnacle. Thank you very much for this story. It’s an eye opener.

  2. Keith Merrill

    Is this for real?why hasn’t there been any news on the Academy divestment?Blockhouse Hill is also interesting in that the town hasn’t been able to successfully sell off wooded land on the north side for development. That land doesn’t have any infrastructure on it and would be prime for development. Blockhouse Hill has some historical significance, with the earthwork fortification the stone with the family names of the settlers and reproduction of a blockhouse. Is this happened because the town needs money?Finance issues should be public so that the public can have input before the necessity to sell or divest properties that are public property

  3. Kirsty Money

    More shocking news from the South shore – at first I thought this was an April Fools!! What on EARTH are developers and politicians THINKING??? That history and heritage can be destroyed and/ or bought at the right price?? Reading this article makes me hopping mad!!!

  4. MJ Martino

    If the goal of these sell offs would be to allow private housing development, surely the open land to the north, past the hospital and beyond, are the best areas, rather than historical lots within the old town. I’m mystified why MODL can’t activate provincial funding to restore the sick building that is sitting on hwy 3 towards Bridgewater, and convert it into affordable housing. It is close to town and ideal for housing. More transparency, creative thinking and input needed!

  5. Heather Langille

    This apparent laser focus of the mayor and council of Lunenburg, a town that derives a significant proportion of its income from tourism, on divesting itself of heritage properties raises all sorts of questions as to motive. It certainly does not seem like these decisions are in the best interests of the citizens that these individuals are allegedly serving.

  6. Shelley MacLeod

    I am shocked and frankly horrified that Lunenburg would consider divesting of such a notable structure.
    I reside in Liverpool and each and every time I drive to Lunenburg I see this magnificent building welcoming me to your lovely town. In my humble opinion, this idea is in bad judgement backed by lack of foresight and consideration. Of course I don’t know the financials, but if any town can deliver to maintain a heritage building, it is Lunenburg!

    1. Concerned resident

      Do you pay for it? The Town can’t and both the Province and Federal governments had contributed as much as possible yet it still looses huge amounts annually

  7. jay langford

    Totally unbelievable! This council has lost it’s mind. Why would they want to destroy every thing that makes this town so charming not only for tourists but home owners. Since the decline of the fishery tourism has played a major role in helping to make this town sustainable, at least eighty percent of businesses rely on tourism to some extent and selling the assets off to private developers is total madness.

    1. Scott Clements

      The plan would be sell it to the non profit that was set up to preserve it.
      This would mean it would be more likely to remain as the castle on the hill.

  8. Carolyn Fish

    This is just awful
    Lunenburg has always maintained its historic value that attracted visitors from all over the world
    And making it a wonderful place to
    Live and work
    Someone seems to want to
    Destroy all of this for the almighty dollar
    Shame on you

    1. Scott Clements

      The plan would be sell it to the non profit that was set up to preserve it.
      This would mean it would be more likely to remain as the castle on the hill.

      1. Alison F Strachan

        There doesn’t seem to be evidence (i.e., like what was in the letter to the LAF from the TOL) to suggest that conclusion. Do you have a copy of that letter? It’s easy to say what “the plan would be” when there is nothing supporting what the plan actually is. Until I see that plan, or the letter from the TOL to the LAF advising them of the divestiture, I am unconvinced that this is the “Plan”

  9. Kim Smith

    I agree with Heather Langille questioning motives. Who is getting paid how much to do this nefarious deal? I also agree that center school should be housing. That is a great idea.

  10. Current council is on a money hungry rampage gobbling up town assests like this crown jewel, the Academy.

    Resumé building for themselves with utter disregard for the impact of their short sighted decisions.

    My business (Blue Zone Fitness) was a victim of this carnage when they had their Queen’s Council send me a nasty eviction letter from the old fire hall in order to put it out for RFP.
    Costing my business thousands of dollars (after being shut down 4 times during COVID) and causing me and my team severe distress.
    That was nearly two years ago and the building still sits empty with no revenue.

    I have no doubt the next thing will be the golf course will be paved for a parking lot if left up to this council.

  11. Martha Keddy Smith

    Thank you for reporting this which is just one example of the Lunenburg mayor’s obsession with densification which is tearing our little town apart .

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