Moosomin town council made it clear they would throw their support behind stabilizing the old McNaughton Building at their council meeting last week, and decided they are open to the town seeking temporary ownership of the building so that tax deductible donations can be made to the project, and the project can be covered by insurance.
Council saw a delegation at their meeting from Marvin Thomas, a project officer with the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation, to discuss how the town could help with the project.
“I probably agree with a lot of people that with the building in the condition it’s in, it’s hard to feel a lot of love for it,” Thomas told council. “But its dilapidated condition shouldn’t make us forget how rare and special it is and how significant it is in the history of Moosomin and the province as a whole.”
“It really was a big part of the birth of Moosomin and it is in fact the oldest standing commercial building in the province.
“With restoration and finding a new use for it, it certainly can be an asset again to the community and the province.”
Thomas said that if the building is to be saved, it will need to be an effort by a number of parties.
“I’m hoping we can find a will and a means to work out a plan and bring it back to life,” he said. “I think it’s going to take a combination of the province and town and maybe the community at large to work together to do that.
The old wooden McNaughton Building, located on Carleton Street, is the oldest and first commercial building in the province, serving as a general store when the McNaughton family came out west with the railway. But today, the 130-year-old building is in extreme disrepair, and is in danger of collapsing if it is not stabilized soon.
The building sits on private land, and is designated a provincial heritage property. The owner of the land would like to see the building moved, but first it would need to be stabilized, and a new location would need to be found in order to move it once it is stabilized.
A small group of volunteers has taken an interest in the building and is presently working on forming a non-profit organization to help maintain and restore the building.
Until that can be done, however, the building is in dire need of stabilization.
“We are at the 11th hour right now by all reports,” said Thomas. “The building is really in imminent danger, so without some remedial action there would probably no point talking about its future.”
Moosomin town councillor Garry Beckett, who also sits on the local heritage committee, says he is pleased to see that a group of volunteers is willing to try to do something about the old building.
“It has sparked an interest from other local people who do see it as a very important part of our history and something that simply can’t be replaced,” he said. “The interest has grown and spread throughout the community. I’m really happy to see that. It kind of takes a life of its own when a new group of really passionate people get involved.
“I still believe that that building can be saved if enough money is thrown at it to stabilize it, and we’ll solve all the other issues. It’s just a matter of where we will come up with this funding.”
Thomas said funding would likely be more readily available from the province if the building was not privately owned.
“I can say that certainly the province would be much more inclined and enthusiastic about providing some support to a community- or town-owned building than if it were still in private hands,” he said.
“Really, what the building needs now is a temporary caretaker. That could potentially be the town. It could take temporary ownership of the building, the money could be funneled (through the town) for the grant process, other funds could be funneled towards it and once it’s stabilized, then we’ve bought some time and a number of months to find a new site and new use for it.”
Mayor Larry Tomlinson pointed out that if the town were to take temporary ownership of the building, tax receipts could be issued for donations toward the project.
“I think the people who donate to it are going to want a tax receipt and it takes a while to get that, and we already have it,” he said.
Thomas suggested that the town consider taking temporary ownership of the building until it be stabilized and a non-profit organization can be formed to take care of the building, at which time the ownership could then be turned over to that organization.
He said town ownership would look favorable when accessing government funding for the project.
“I think the thing to do would be to come up with a reasonable estimate (for the repairs), find out what the shortfall is, and then come to the province for a request for that type of support, and then it’s the minister’s decision,” he said. “But I think coming from the community it would be favorable.”
Beckett said he doesn’t think the community fully understands how important the building is historically.
“I don’t think the community is aware of the significance of that building. It’s been forgotten. It has sat there for 130 years.
“If it wasn’t for that building this town wouldn’t exist as it is. That’s the first centre of commerce in the whole province, in Western Canada basically.
“We could have been a little dusty prairie town that blew away in the ‘30s if it wasn’t for McNaughton and his cohorts who started this.
“The building from 1882 to ‘56 was all operated under the McNaughton name. It’s the longest continuously owned business name in the province.”
“It’s not as an impressive looking piece of architecture as the old stone (McNaughton) building across the street, but certainly its historical role is every bit as significance or more so that the stone building,” added Thomas.
Neil Russell, a member of the volunteer group formed to save the old building, also attended the council meeting. He said donations toward stabilizing and restoring it are already starting to come in.
“Somebody’s got to take ownership of it so that we can get in there and save it,” he said.
“We’ve got donations already from Goodman Steel—just the other day they said they’d donate some I-beams. Francis McDougall is stepping up to the plate and he’s got all his building moving stuff and we’re going to use him as the knowledge on how to do everything and get it ready.
“We’ve got three 40-foot I-beams from Goodmans free of cost and Francis has some I-beams we can use as well.”
Town Administrator Paul Listrom pointed out that it would be easier to get insurance for the stabilization process if the building were owned by the town.
Councillor Chris Davidson pointed out that a decision needed to be made soon or the building is not going to stand much longer.
“Before it snows again we have to prop the thing up before it falls over,” he said.
“This project isn’t going to be your beautifully, professionally done project where everything is done at great expense,” said Beckett. “This is going to be a local effort where guys are going to roll up their sleeves and do it the old fashioned way.
“We’re going to save this place.”
“If you’re to save it, that’s the only way it can be done probably,” said Thomas.
Russell said the building is in such a state of disrepair that it has already deteriorated significantly in a six month period.
“If we’re going to do something, we just want to be able to start,” said Russell. “If we don’t do something right away, if we get a wet snow in the spring, it’s gone.”
“We’ve got to start real quick, real fast,” said Beckett.
Council decided they would speak with an insurance broker and a lawyer about what it would take to seek temporary ownership of the building and provide insurance for the stabilization project.
As of last Thursday, the town was waiting to hear back from the building owner as to whether or not he would be favorable toward the town purchasing the building.