If rural Atlantic Canada is going to survive and thrive it is going to have to redefine itself, and in doing so it should focus on its strengths and be self-reliant. That’s exactly what the Town of Bridgetown is trying to do. The town recently developed an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP). In preparing its ICSP, Bridgetown undertook extensive community consultation and research into what makes strong, healthy rural communities. While Bridgetown was facing many challenges, it also had much going for it including schools, recreation facilities, compact downtown with the necessary services, a riverfront park and a host of community organizations providing programs and services.
The ICSP also identified several assets that, although in poor condition, were seen as potential key pieces of the community’s future. They were grouped together in Bridgetown’s Redevelopment Plan, entitled New Dividends from Old Stock, which focuses on the adaptive reuse, rehabilitation and greening of buildings, structures, and properties as the foundation for economic and community development.
Where others saw derelict buildings and vacant lots, Bridgetown saw opportunities:
Bridgetown Development Centre (BDC): Formerly part of Acadian Distillers, the BDC was owned by Nova Scotia Business Incorporated (NSBI) and managed by the Town of Bridgetown. While the offices were usually fully leased and generating an operating surplus, the back warehouse space remained empty. The town pressed NSBI to either invest the earnings into the building or put it on the market, so that it could be purchased by an owner who would invest in it. Ultimately the BDC was purchased by local owners in 2011. They began investing in much needed upgrades immediately. They also converted the back half of the building into the Trojan Sports Centre, a multi-sport training and recreation centre. Plans are underway to convert part of the building into a residence for out-of-town student athletes who will attend the local high school while training at the centre and other local facilities.
Revere Building: Built as a gas station in 1929, the Revere building had also been home to a restaurant, a retail outlet, and offices. When it was identified as the site for the new Bridgetown and Area Library, the building was in disrepair and many in the community questioned its suitability for a library. Its prominent location in the downtown core and the opportunity to rehabilitate both the building and the property made the project the focus of the town’s downtown revitalization efforts. The new library opened in 2011 and has been embraced by the community. Part of the building has been leased as a café, adding even more vitality to the site and the downtown core.
Irving Property: There are plans to transform this empty dirt lot, site of a former gas station, into a public green space linked to town hall.
Bridge of Gardens: A community group is looking to develop a multi-use, accessible trail from Queen Street to the eastern side of the rail bridge, with planters and rest stops on the bridge.
Old Fire Hall: While currently being used for storage, other uses are being explored. The town is also looking into the potential of developing a geothermal field in the ball field, using energy from the ice plants in the arena and curling rink.
With two projects completed and the other three on the horizon, Bridgetown is taking control of its future, while also preserving and building on its heritage. There are many positive signs in the community: long empty buildings have been purchased and new businesses are opening up; young families are moving in and enrolment is up in the early grades; newcomers and long-time residents are working together on projects like a natural playground, a youth ambassador program, a farmers and traders market, a community fund and others. This blend of community and entrepreneurial spirit is serving Bridgetown well going forward.
Community Development Coordinator
Town of Bridgetown