Canada's newest arts & culture centre. Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
Canada's newest arts & culture centre. Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
Annette Verschuren, born and raised in Cape Breton, has never wavered in her support for or belief in the potential of Cape Breton Island. In her work with the private sector, the federal government, and community organizations across the country, she remains a steadfast champion of the Island that to her, is home.
She began her career as a development officer with the Cape Breton Development Corporation or DEVCO. Ms Verschuren went on to serve as a co-owner of Michaels in Canada and president of The Home Depot Canada and Asia. Today, she is Chair and CEO of NRStor Inc., an energy storage development company.
Ms Verschuren is a board member of Liberty Mutual Insurance Group of Boston, Air Canada, Saputo, Canadian Natural Resources Limited and the CAMH Foundation. She is Chair of the Board of the MaRS Discovery District and, for the Federal Government, is Chair of Sustainable Development Technology Canada.
In 2019, Ms Verschuren was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame and in 2011 honoured as an Officer of the Order of Canada for her contribution to the retail industry and Corporate Social Responsibility.
A champion of community investment and volunteerism, she serves as Chancellor of Cape Breton University and chaired fundraising efforts for the University’s new Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy & the Environment (VCSEE).
Ms Verschuren holds honorary doctorate degrees from ten universities including St. Francis Xavier University, where she also earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. She is the author of Bet On Me, a chronicle of her experiences leading and succeeding in business and in life, published by Harper Collins.
“Cape Breton Island is rich with musicians, painters, potters, textile artists, weavers, filmmakers, designers, printmakers, and writers. The arts are as much a part of Cape Breton — and its future — as are the ocean and the Cabot Trail. The economy to be developed around the arts is one that is much more sustainable than coal and steel, and it is one that reflects who the Island is today and what it has to offer the world.”
New Dawn Enterprises is Canada’s oldest community development corporation with a powerful mission to engage the community in ways that will foster self-reliance. With its many successful initiatives, New Dawn proves what can be accomplished when engaged people come together and apply the best planning, business, and organizational principles in response to community needs.
Today, the organization provides in-home health care, immigration settlement services, affordable housing, community investment, and meal security programs for more than 600 Cape Bretoners each day.
In 2019–2020, New Dawn is once again leading the way with a dynamic revitalization strategy that couples community development and essential investment in the rich cultural sector of Cape Breton. Their vision is one that will advance economic diversification in an underserved sector and fortify Cape Breton’s vibrancy, self-sufficiency, and prosperity.
Across Canada, recognition of the impact and importance of the creative economy has led to investment in the development of physical spaces that foster and support the growth of the culture sector. It is now widely acknowledged that cultural industries are a significant economic driver and a generator of prosperity.
Enormous opportunities for cultural creation, innovation, and growth exist in Cape Breton, but the infrastructure necessary for the long term sustainable production of creative work has yet to be realized. And without it, the creative economy as a potential economic generator will continue to elude Cape Breton.
To meet this need, New Dawn will establish The Convent — a centre for arts and culture to harness the power of Cape Breton creativity in pursuit of community and economic revitalization.
The Centre site is the former Holy Angels Convent. With its distinctive bell tower, the Convent has been an architectural landmark in north end Sydney since its construction in the late 1800s.
Repurposing the building as a cultural hub creates an appealing link to the rich legacy of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame, who first introduced formal education in the arts (literature, theatre and dramatic works, painting and visual arts, musicianship and choral singing) from that very site. The Convent will celebrate the Sisters’ remarkable history while revitalizing the iconic heritage structure as a place where arts and culture can flourish for the next 100 years.
For a virtual tour of the building as it will look when complete, please visit: theconvent.ca/virtual-tour
Over many months, New Dawn conducted hundreds of consultations with artists and community stakeholders to explore the re-purposing of the building. Among the many possibilities considered, what emerged was a pressing need for a structure that would provide creative producers of all genres with long-term, affordable work (studio) and collaboration spaces.
New Dawn engaged LORD Cultural Resources, an internationally-recognized firm in the planning of cultural spaces, to conduct a Future Uses study for the site. This resulted in a plan for redevelopment based on identified user requirements, a pro forma business plan with projections for operating revenue and expenses, and a budget for the capital costs associated with construction.
The LORD study uncovered two key findings: the redevelopment of the building was a highly desirable strategy for creating much needed cultural infrastructure and was operationally sustainable.
Toronto-based DTAH and Sydney-based Trifos Design Architects have crafted a well-considered layout to meet the needs of a range of tenants. When completed, the Convent will offer more than 150 artists and creative entrepreneurs a unique combination of spaces and a collaborative atmosphere for rehearsals, performances, studio-work, and residencies.
Not only will this improve the economic capacity of creative producers in the region, but it will help to revitalize the community and generate ancillary benefits for nearby restaurants, shops and other businesses.
Each year in Nova Scotia, cultural industries contribute more than $1 billion to the economy and create more than 14,000 jobs. They now exceed the hunting, fishing, agriculture, and forestry sectors in importance to the provincial economy.
Cape Breton’s cultural sector, which boasts a depth and breadth disproportionate to the size of the region, generates a significant portion of that annual revenue. Cape Bretoners are world-renowned for their Mi’kmaq, Celtic, and Acadian song, dance, music, and visual arts and crafts.
Economic impact studies have proven time and time again that there’s an inextricable link between the creative industries and economic development, employment levels, tourism, and quality of life for residents. Cape Breton is poised to capitalize on the benefits that the creative economy offers — now it just requires the infrastructure to do so.
The presence of creative production in a community inspires growth in other economic sectors — culture acts as a key factor in economic development by helping attract talented, ambitious people to communities. Research in Nova Scotia has identified three ways in which the arts and cultural industries affect the economy1:
Studies also show that the impact of the cultural industries extends to other sectors2:
But equally, if not more important are the ways in which participation in cultural pursuits contributes to quality of life and the development of the individual.
1 Nova Scotia CAN: Building the Creative Economy in Nova Scotia, 2009
2 http://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/Rural Arts 11-17.pdf
A full complement of prospective artist-tenants has been identified, providing the organization with the capacity to quantify the demand and accurately project revenues for the Convent.
In addition, there are several long-term anchor tenants slated to move to the facility who will pay fair market rents for the large rental units on each floor. In the business plan developed for The Convent, rental income offsets all operational costs by year two.
The Cape Breton Regional Municipality has committed tax concessions as its contribution to the success of the project. They will enable New Dawn to realize an annual operational savings of $150,000, with property taxes projected to be $150,000, down from $300,000.
Province of Nova Scotia
Government of Canada
Invest Nova Scotia
Total Cost of Project
The Convent offers a dynamic, forward-looking opportunity to mobilize the rich cultural resources of Cape Breton towards economic and community revitalization. It will ensure that the creative economy concept, as a potential economic generator, is converted into actual jobs, opportunities and an improved quality of life.
Cape Breton Island, rich in beauty, takes great pride in its abundance of artists — painters, sculptors, craftspeople, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, story tellers — whose numbers exceed national averages on a per capita basis. But the economic benefits of diverse and innovative creative activity will never be achieved if the lack of infrastructure prevents growth.
The time for a facility in Cape Breton that will foster continued growth and expansion of this vital sector has arrived. But making this dream a reality has its costs. New Dawn has secured a significant portion of the needed funds to achieve this celebration of Cape Breton culture. We invite you to play a part in making this vision a reality. This is an opportunity to participate in the creation of a facility that ensures Cape Breton culture survives and thrives well into the 21st Century.
New Dawn Community Development Education Foundation
Registered Charity #863074795 RR0001