Couple trying to save historic building

Arts & Entertainment Community Featured

PICTOU — Sandy Best hopes he can save at least part of a former hotel in Pictou’s downtown.

Best purchased the three-storey brick building and the wooden structure between it and the former Walker Inn he and his wife co-own called the Scotsman Inn. He wants to spare the brick building’s ground floor for a residence and replace the wooden edifice with a courtyard.

The irony of the former hotel and the inn is not lost on Best, who is trying to make a house out of what was the oldest hotel in Pictou and runs the inn that was originally a home.

The brick building was known as the Stanley Hotel and timber already retrieved from it dates from 1855, making it the oldest hotel in Pictou. The Scotsman Inn dates from 1865 and is a Registered Historical Building. It features 10 guest rooms. Original Nova Scotia paintings adorn each one, while some walls have MacAskill photographs.

Guests’ meals are served on English fine bone china with silver coffee service at Gibbard tables that date from 1923.

“People have said ‘You’re like the Downton Abbey of Nova Scotia,’” Best said. “It’s good for us commercially, but it’s good for the town.”

He said some people stay one night while others stay a week and plan day trips around Pictou County and elsewhere while based at the Inn.

He said he would like the courtyard to complete the guests’ experience at the Inn. He plans to use ballast stone discovered during the project to front the courtyard with a wrought-iron closure. Razing the wooden building will also create more parking spaces behind the Inn. Most of the wooden building was beyond repair, but a rear deck that was eased to the ground may be reused.

Saving the idle brick building will be daunting, if not impossible, due to the disrepair and neglect it has suffered, Best said. He noted several structural engineers have deemed its condition beyond repair.

“We know the third floor is gone,” Best said. “It’s down to what the structural engineers say.”

Quinn Van Heiningen, a diesel mechanic by trade who arrived from Toronto three years ago, is leading the demolition and salvage work.

Work has started each day at 9:30 a.m. and ends around 4:30 p.m. to limit disruption in the neighbourhood.

“Our neighbours have been totally supportive,” Best said.

No crane is used in order to dismantle the building piece by piece to limit the noise and dust and save as much material as possible.

As an example, Best has found one-piece beams whose length matches the brick building’s width. Some of the beams are 14 inches wide, while others are 16 inches to confirm the size trees cut and trimmed into beams.

“It’s beautiful wood,” Van Heiningen said. “People will want it.”

The Bests came to Pictou from Banff, where they own a hotel. They winter in Tonga in the South Pacific.

Sandy Best said money from the Banff business allowed them to purchase and refurbish the Scotsman Inn, whose proceeds will help pay for the work at the other two properties.

“Everything here is to pay for everything there,” he said.

Sandy Best stands on the balcony at the Scotsman Inn overlooking neighbouring buildings he purchased. He hopes to salvage at least part of the brick building and has had the wooden structure between them dismantled to be replaced by a courtyard. (Goodwin photo)