Knocking down history?

Nisbet Church in Kinsmen Park, prior to deconstruction. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

A pair of important historical landmarks could be demolished due to a lack of funding.

The Prince Albert Historical Society has asked city council for $10,000 in the 2018 budget to demolish The Nisbet Church and the accompanying blockhouse. Both buildings are close to 150 years old.

Historical Society manager and curator Michelle Taylor said the society doesn’t want to demolish the buildings, but given their limited finances, they don’t have many other options.

“The society doesn’t want to see them go, but we don’t know what else to do,” she said.

An engineering assessment performed last spring showed roughly $750,000 of work that needs to be done on the buildings to keep them from collapsing. Taylor said the society doesn’t have the funds to sink into a project that expensive, and moving them is out of the question because of their dilapidated state. Neither building is eligible for Heritage Site status because they were both moved from their original location.

“Our hope was if it wasn’t going to cost that much that we could move the buildings down closer to the museum and (use) them properly,” Taylor said. “We talked about it at Historical Society Meetings and, reluctantly, this is what’ve come up with.”

Taylor said museums across the province are facing a similar struggle to pay for the upkeep of their collections. She’s skeptical that the city will be able to pay for such a project, and so far no private citizens have come forward to offer financial support. However, she’s hopeful that residents will at least take an interest in the issue. Right now, she’s not sure everyone understands the significance of the two buildings, or what is required to keep them standing.

“I think this line item now will open up dialogue between the city and the Historical Society and the residents about what they want to see done,” she said.

Taylor added that they would try to demolish the buildings in such a way as to allow them to keep some sections for a permanent university display.

One citizen who does have interest in the issue is local seniors’ advocate John Fryters.

Fryters said it’s upsetting to see an important piece of the city’s history in danger, and dismissed concerns that the city could not fund the needed repairs.

“City council just gave $700,000 to establish a brand new hotel in Prince Albert,” he said. “If they can come out with a free grant of $700,000, they certainly can come up with $750,000 to keep the only remaining … piece of heritage which links the City of Prince Albert to the past.”

Fryters added that he hasn’t started a campaign, petition or financial drive to keep the buildings up, but it’s something he is considering in the future.

The Reverend James Nisbet originally built Nisbet Church and school in 1872. According to the Prince Albert Historical Society, it is the second oldest church in Saskatchewan, and the oldest school between the Red River and the Alberta foothills.

The blockhouse was originally built by Archie Ballantine as a stable for Prince Albert’s first lawyer. It was converted into a blockhouse, which was used for the city’s defence, during the Northwest Rebellion.

Both buildings were moved to their present locations in Kinsmen Park in the early 1930s.