In 1989 it was time for a new community centre. The old parish hall, built by the community in 1912, was too structurally deficient to be worth repairing. The volunteer church members, who made up the parish council, debated whether the new structure should be a “parish” or “community” centre and agreed that a hall built and managed by and for the broader community was preferable. A committee was created that included representatives from every geographic area of the community and several important local associations. The committee members polled the various associations in the community (i.e., the Seniors’ Association, the 4-H Club, the St. Andrews Parish Council, the Volunteer Fire Department) and traveled to see other community centres in the province asking questions about the advantages and disadvantages of each structure.
Once the land (donated by the Diocese) and building design issues were settled, the committee set about raising money, beginning with the organization of public dances and concerts. These fundraising efforts are a clear illustration of the talents of this community and the leadership that pulls it together. The first big event was an open-air concert in a local farmer’s field featuring the Rankin Family. Local carpenters and electricians donated their time in setting up the stage. Other community members donated materials and several “baby barns” (small storage sheds) to be used as places to sell food and goods at the concert. A car dealership in a nearby town was approached and the owners agreed to donate the use of a travel trailer for the band. A second open-air concert featuring Rita MacNeil and The Men of the Deeps was held one month later, during “St. Andrews Come Home Days” and the proceeds were split between three local organizations, including the community centre. One of the more unique fundraising ideas was to produce and sell a calendar featuring the historical buildings of St. Andrews. A local artist donated her time to sketch pen and ink drawings from old photographs. So many local area businesses wanted to advertise in the calendar that there wasn’t enough space to accommodate them all.
The two most successful fundraising schemes were lottery and pledge campaigns. The lottery involved selling tickets for cash prizes that would be awarded each week. Over a one-year period, 930 tickets were sold for $100 each, which amounted to a profit of $60,000 for the building project. Representatives from each part of the community sold tickets to their neighbours and former community members were solicited through the mail. Some did not want to support a form of gambling, so gave donations instead. The lottery was followed up with a very successful pledge campaign that raised $55,000 from the 300 families targeted. If families could not afford a cash pledge, they offered their labour or food for volunteers during the building phase of the centre. In total, the committee raised $260,000 in cash through all of its fundraising activities.
When the old parish hall was closed for safety reasons, the committee decided to start construction of the new building in the spring of 1993, even though their fundraising targets had not yet been reached. One of the committee members was hired to supervise the construction effort. Thirty-five volunteers, mostly local firemen, cleared the land. Borrowed equipment – a bulldozer and an excavator – was used to level the ground and dig the base for the foundation. More than 15 local truckers hauled donated gravel from three private pits, accepting no payment except money for fuel. A local contractor donated the use of a boom truck to help the men who were installing and welding steel beams for the floor. A local union plumber and two helpers voluntarily installed the underground plumbing. Several local volunteers installed the floor joists and more than 20 community members helped assemble the walls and put in the roof trusses. The roof was shingled in one day, with as many as 54 people on the roof at one time. Local businesses and households donated food each day for the workers.
Two-thirds of the way through the construction phase, the committee began to run out of funds and decided to take a loan from the local credit union for $100,000 in order to finish the building. The continued use of community volunteers and local materials kept down costs enough to ensure that the building could be completed with the additional loan. Local volunteers carried out the electrical work. Community members cut ash trees on their land and delivered them to a local sawmill owner, who cut, planed and dried the wood for the interior lower walls. The firemen volunteered to do all the drywall work and offered to build new tables for the centre. The head of the local plumbers and pipe fitters’ union designed the hot water heating system and 22 union members donated their time to install it. Several union bricklayers donated their time to complete the masonry work. 26 community members laid the hardwood floors. 4-H leaders and youth members who donated hundreds of hours to the task did most of the landscaping work. An insurance estimate after construction placed the building’s value at over $800,000. The cash cost to the community was only one third of this amount, which gives an idea of the value of all the volunteer labour and donated materials.
St. Andrews District Community Centre opened its doors in September 1994. The new 7,800 square foot centre is a multi-purpose building that is used for weddings, funeral teas, dances, concerts, meetings and fundraising events for a variety of community organizations. Five years after the building opened, a mortgage-burning party was held to celebrate the fact that the Community Centre was debt-free. A cornerstone was engraved with the words“Community Spirit”.
This centre was completely financed and entirely built by the people of St. Andrews. The commitment of volunteers to operate and maintain the centre has not flagged, demonstrating that the spirit of cooperation that was drawn on so heavily in the building of the centre continues through the pride that the community centre has generated. St. Andrews provided inspiration to other communities. Shortly after the centre was completed, a delegation from Judique came to St. Andrews to learn how to plan and build a community centre. In 1995, the St. Andrews District Community Centre won a provincial achievement award. The Community Centre is now an Emergency Measures Organization “Community Comfort Center”, due to the installation of a $20,000 generator. $5000 of the cost came from the Municipality of the County of Antigonish and the rest was paid for by the SADCC through various fundraising efforts.