Plan to incorporate as not-for-profit through Ontario Historical Society

CENTRAL MANITOULIN – The ongoing saga of the Mindemoya Old School building seemed near to endgame when Central Manitoulin council voted recently to issue a request for proposals to demolish the edifice. But in doing so a number of councillors left the impression that the door was still open a crack for a Hail Mary pass, should someone or some organization come forward with a sound and definitive plan to repurpose the Old School in a manner that would take the pressure off of the municipal books.

Weengushk Film Institute stepped forward to investigate the building’s potential as an extension of its facility, but that option may be too far in the future to fit that bill, according to Mayor Richard Stephens.

“I am under the impression that won’t fly because of the building being under the hammer for demolition,” he said when contacted following an online meeting of supporters with the Ontario Historical Society.

The online meeting of approximately 30 people included Mayor Stephens and another councillor. It heard a presentation from OHS executive director Rob Leverty, who outlined the options that have proven successful in saving numerous other buildings across the province. Essentially, the participants heard that private not-for-profit groups have been stepping up to take over historical properties ranging from lighthouses to rail lines as various levels of government have shied away from the expense of preserving the province’s historical heritage.

The OHS was granted the power to incorporate non-profits (the only non-governmental agency in North America to be granted such power). Over 45 agencies have been created by the OHS since 2015 alone—basically one a month. On Manitoulin Island, both the Central Manitoulin Historical Society and the Michael’s Bay Historical Society were incorporated by OHS.

The concept of forming a non-profit was embraced by the Friends of the Old School following the online meeting.

“We are forming a non-profit,” confirmed Jan McQuay, one of those individuals who has been battling to save the Old School. She said that the concept had not occurred to the committee previously set up to seek a way to repurpose the Old School.

“I’m not totally in favour of setting up a free-standing corporation when we already has the Mindemoya Historical Society,” said Mayor Stephens following the meeting, but asked if that organization had expressed any interest in taking on the project he responded, “no.”

Despite his misgivings over the concept of forming a non-profit to take over the management and repurposing of the Old School, Mayor Stephens insists that there is “absolutely no question” of his supporting saving the building from the wrecking ball. “I see no reason to proceed with this when the building could stand for years without an issue, provided it gets a new roof.”

Central Manitoulin’s property committee was set to hear six delegations at its Tuesday, January 12 meeting, including Ms. McQuay, Lynn Quesnel of the Central Manitoulin Historical Society, Aaron Quesnel, Kae Elgie of the Architectural Conservancy of Canada (who is expected to outline the various funding sources that would be available to a not-for-profit) and Jim Smith.

“We are going to see if we can take it off of them,” said Ms. McQuay, who said that the Friends of the Old School has been re-energized by a host of new members. “We are only looking at focussing on the Old School,” she said. “We are not looking to save every old building on Manitoulin.”