StFX demolishes historic property


A few kilometers away from the StFX campus sits Crystal Cliffs in Antigonish Harbour. This property located directly on the shore consisted of the now defunct manor house and a recently upgraded (according to the StFX conference services’ website), barn used for events such as weddings and university affairs.

Photo courtesy of The Antigonish Heritage Museum

Photo courtesy of The Antigonish Heritage Museum

The Xaverian Weekly recently reached out to Alan Armsworthy, the head of the Antigonish Heritage Department via phone.

He explained that the manor house, which StFX recently demolished, was built in 1820 and that the property itself was a land grant after the American Revolution and was an established loyalist grant in 1783.

The property saw a chain of owners over the years and was eventually sold to the Department of Mines, where scientific research took place. StFX acquired this property in 1966 for one dollar. At the time people were pleased with this, as they believed StFX would be good stewards of the property.

When asked why the University decided to tear down the manor house, Andrew Beckett, StFX Vice President Finance and Administration stated in an email to the Xaverian Weekly, “The decision to tear down the Manor House at Crystal Cliffs was made about a year ago by the Board of Governors based on a recommendation from University Administration. The building had not been used for many years and was in a serious state of decay. We did a tour of the property and had to wear protective clothing and masks due to significant hazardous conditions in the building. Our concern was the safety risks and the risk of vandalism associated with having this building remain on the property.”

Armsworthy stated that the Crystal Cliffs manor house was the “most significant heritage property in eastern Nova Scotia.”

Many residents of Antigonish echo the sentiment of the Heritage Foundation and the Museum Board, Armsworthy stated that historic pictures of the manor house were posted on their website and social media platforms post-demolition and received 1,600 views in just two days, and many viewers left comments about the demolition, labeling it, “short-sighted” and, “shameful”.

A few social media users who are StFX alumni also commented that they will withhold monetary donations to their Alma matter.

Cameron D. Chisolm lived at the Crystal Cliffs property for an extensive period of time. In 1978 his grandparents moved there to be the property’s caretakers. Chisolm’s father later assumed the role. Chisolm states, “My four siblings and I had the immense good fortune to be born to this place of stunning beauty and absolute magic… it will ever be our place to dream.”

Photo courtesy of The Antigonish Heritage Museum

Photo courtesy of The Antigonish Heritage Museum

Evan Perry, a life-long Antigonish resident and StFX student, grew up around the property and explored the home and the cliffs, mainly taking photos. Perry says, “after learning the history of the cliffs it was sad to see such a beautiful house get demolished.”

This public outcry of displeasure primarily stems from a lack of consultation with residents on a part of the University.

Andrew Beckett disagrees, when asked why there was no public forum or consultation prior to the demolition Beckett stated “there was no heritage designation on the building that would require consultation. As noted earlier, the building had deteriorated well past a stage where maintaining it would have been warranted. We assessed the building in terms of costs associated with repairs/renovations versus intended use and deemed it best to recommend destruction.”

Although StFX put a new roof on the home approximately a decade ago, major repairs have been few and far between- for example, several glass panes broke last year and were never fixed.

Clearly, maintaining the manor house was not in the University’s financial best interest, but Armsworthy offered alternative solutions to destruction; “it would have been easy to do a fundraiser to save it.” Armsworthy also pointed out that in 2017 due to Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation, the manor house would have been eligible for grants.

Although there was no public consultation, Armsworthy believes that the University didn’t demolish the property in, “a malicious way,” but rather, “was not aware of the significance of the property.”

Beckett stated that there were no alternatives to demolition of the property as “the building was of no use to the University, and as such there was no business case that would warrant the significant investment that would have been required…”

The Museum Board suggests that within the construction/demolition permit process, there should be a historic review to inform the owner of the property of any historical significance and value.

The Museum Board will also be taking action. According to Armsworthy, the board will draft a letter to the StFX Board of Governors expressing their sentiments, the Nova Scotia Minister of Heritage and Culture will also receive a copy of this letter.

As far as the future of the site, there are no plans and StFX administration will allow the area to where the manor house once stood to return to its natural, pre-building state.