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NORTH SYDNEY — A significant piece of North Sydney’s heritage is now being preserved, thanks to the efforts of local developers.
Peeling off layers of paint, taking down partition walls and ripping up carpet in the former Bank of Nova Scotia building on Commercial Street has uncovered some spectacular craftsmanship from years gone by.
Most recently, the building housed the Wilfred Oram Memorial Library, the local museum and a variety of offices on the third floor.
“It was a bank so it is built like a fortress, with steel and concrete; it is structurally sound,” said Jason Finney of Northside Property Holdings. “The majority of changes to the building so far have been cosmetic.”
The building, which was owned by the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, became available when it was declared surplus after the library moved into the new Heritage and Cultural Centre next door.
“We put in a bid, and part of the bid wasn’t just the price, but that it wouldn’t be torn down,” he said. “Our plan was to renovate and bring the building back to its former glory. I don’t think there is another building like it in North Sydney, with its 14-foot ceilings, terrazzo tiles and beautiful oak staircase.”
The offices on the top floor have been given a complete facelift.
“When we pulled up the carpet and vinyl flooring we discovered beautiful, hardwood floors. It was the same with the staircase, we stripped off numerous layers of paint to find that it was oak.”
Now that the work is complete on the third floor, they’ve turned their attention to the bottom floor that housed the museum.
“The middle floor which was the library is such a big space, we’ve decided to wait and see what people may have in mind before making any changes,” he said. “We stuck the ‘for rent’ sign up in front to let people know they can come in, look around and share their ideas.”
The basement was at one time a maze of tiny rooms.
“We’ve taken down the partitions and now it is an open space with an eight-foot ceiling, something you don’t often see,” Finney said. “We want to bring the basement back to its original brick and mortar because it has such great, old character. It is a totally useable space.”
The renovation work began in February and the developers expect that it will take the full year to complete the entire building. One they complete the interior, they’ll turn their attention to the exterior of the building.
“We are taking layers off and you can almost see the history of how the building was built, it’s like going back in time,” said Paul Finney. “We found the same with the former Jabalee building that we refurbished. With these old buildings, you get character that you can’t build with new. Looking at the structure, our best guess is that there was an elevator in this building at one time which would have around the mid to late 1800s.”
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