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THEN AND NOW: 'I wanted to keep it here for everyone to enjoy' – New life for historic building in Barrington Passage


BARRINGTON PASSAGE, N.S. – For 110 years, what is known as the Robertson building has stood stately on the corner of Highway 3 and Station Road in the heart of Barrington Passage.

For the first 72 years (1909-1981) the building operated as a bank, first for the Union Bank of Halifax, then in 1910 it became the Royal Bank of Canada after that financial institution absorbed the Union Bank of Halifax. It remained an RBC branch until 1981, when a new more modern branch was built on adjacent land.

The historic building was gifted to the Municipality of Barrington by the RBC, serving as the local branch of the Western Counties Regional Library for many years, then as an adult learning centre for the Shelburne County Learning Network.

THEN: The Robertson building in the distance on the left and the house are about the only similarities in these two Barrington Passage streetscapes. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CAPE SABLE HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
THEN: The Robertson building in the distance on the left and the house are about the only similarities in these two Barrington Passage streetscapes. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CAPE SABLE HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

Declaring the building surplus, the Municipality of Barrington issued a request for proposals to purchase the building in 2017.

The opportunity was not lost on Natasha Mood-Nickerson.

“It’s such a beautiful building,” says Mood-Nickerson. “I wanted to keep it here for everyone to enjoy.”

Mood-Nickerson is renovating the interior of the building into the Salty Shores Inn and Café. Downstairs will be the café, which should be up and running by next spring.

“It will be a lunch spot,” says Mood-Nickerson. “The focus will be nice coffees and a nice place to hang out, something along the lines of Sip Café but not as big.”

Upstairs are two modern hotel rooms, with all the amenities one would expect to find while travelling. Mood-Nickerson hopes to have the inn operating by the end of the year.

“I definitely see a need. A lot of business people come through here and end up having to stay in Shelburne or Yarmouth,” she says.

NOW: The Robertson building in the distance on the left and the house are about the only similarities in these two Barrington Passage streetscapes. KATHY JOHNSON PHOTO
NOW: The Robertson building in the distance on the left and the house are about the only similarities in these two Barrington Passage streetscapes. KATHY JOHNSON PHOTO

“During the lobster season a lot of people come through here: buyers and sellers. I’ve already had requests. The area has a lot to offer,” she says, noting it is a central location in the Municipality of Barrington and in the Barrington Passage business district, close to the multi-purpose trail, shopping and services.

Mood-Nickerson has tried to keep as many original elements of the building as she can through the renovation process. The bank vault is being renovated into a walk-in refrigerator. The unique, upper-floor triangle windows have been preserved, as have the first-floor windows, which were covered over with aluminum storm windows for many years.

“As soon as we took them off the building had new life again,” says Mood-Nickerson.

New windows that open had to be installed on the front of the building upstairs to meet the fire code standards. The stairway spindles were also not up to code so are being replaced and incorporated into the historic railing.

“It’s a very well-built building,” says Mood-Nickerson. “There’s no creaks,” she says, adding contractors determined the walls of the building are three bricks thick.

As for changes to the exterior, the upstairs fire escape was moved back a few feet into what is now the hallway for the inn, and two small ornate rectangular windows that were located on the back of the building now provide light on the side of the building into one of the hotel rooms.

Mood-Nickerson said she always enjoyed going to the Robertson building when it was a library.

“We just don’t have all the history in the area anymore. All the nice old buildings have been renovated into bigger buildings,” she says.


WHO WERE THE ROBERTSONS?

The Robertsons were a very prominent family in the 1800s, with several generations serving as MPs and MLAs. In fact, at one time, Barrington Passage was known as Robertson Town.

The Robertson family were instrumental in starting the Barrington and Cape Island Steam Ferry Company in 1889, providing safe passage from the mainland to Cape Sable Island, and in bringing railway service to the area with the formation of the Coast Railway Company. They also established the Cape Sable Advertiser newspaper, although it only lasted three years.

According to a plaque in the building, the Robertson building was built on the site of the first blacksmith shop established in Barrington Passage. It was built as a bank building and was officially opened for business on Feb. 11, 1909.

William Robertson, a member of the influential Robertson family of the village, became a director of the bank on April 23, 1890, vice-president on March 14, 1894 and president on March 12, 1898. He was instrumental in having the bank establish an agency or a branch in Barrington Passage in 1896, which led to the eventual building of the Robertson building.

The Robertson House, also known as the Herbert R. Banks House, also still stands in Barrington Passage. According to research by the late Marion Robertson, “The house was built in 1837 for John and Susan Robertson. John was a merchant and U.S. consul. The couple had three children; however, they were raised by their paternal grandparents when both John and Susan died unexpectedly. William and Sarah Robertson, parents of John, moved into the Herbert R. Banks House rather than remove their grandchildren from their home. The elder Robertson came to the Shelburne area with other Loyalists following the end of the American Revolution and established a trading business there. He married Sarah Van Norden of Tusket, also from a Loyalist family, and the couple settled in Barrington Passage in 1813. Robertson was active in the Barrington Passage community. He was appointed as a notary public, he established a blacksmith shop with his son John, and was appointed a justice of the peace. The house remained in the Robertson family for three more generations.”



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