SOUTH SHORE – From bringing the salmon back to the Clyde River, to the possibilities of commercial housing developments in the towns of Clark’s Harbour and Shelburne, New York real estate broker Simon Harrison is motivated.
The first property he purchased in Shelburne County was 430 acres of pristine forest land along the upper reaches of the Clyde River. That was followed by the purchase of the former Island Lanes bowling alley in Clark’s Harbour.
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Then in 2022, came the massive historic former Trinity United Church property in downtown Shelburne. “We were going to use it as a house but it was bigger than we needed,” said Harrison in an interview.
Harrison was looking for somewhere to spend summer vacations with his extended family. Nova Scotia beckoned from memories spent here as a child.
Harrison remembers family summer vacations spent in the Maritimes and Maine. His father Malcolm Harrison was an avid sports fisherman, “fishing big fish even in small streams, that’s what I remember from Nova Scotia.”
He recalls one summer his father rented McLeans Island, Shelburne County, for a month. “We used to ride down to the dock and catch pollock. My parents made wine out of crab apples that summer. Those are some of my strongest memories as a kid.”
With Maine becoming more crowded, and Shelburne only 340 miles away as the crow flies from his home, the concept of having a Shelburne house wasn’t that far-fetched, Harrison says.
36 John Street
When the church property came on the market, it was a deal he couldn’t pass up.
“If that church at 36 John Street came up for sale (in the U.S.) it would be in the millions. There’s even a legitimate economic reason to lift the whole church and move it down to markets in Boston or New York or the Hamptons, Nantucket, and rebuild it,” says Harrison.
“That seems a little extreme. I’m in Sag Harbour and there are six houses being lifted in the historic district so they can put more floors underneath because there’s just no room to expand in the historic district,” he says. “Just because the numbers make sense doesn’t mean that it isn’t crazy to move an old house from another town and replant it somewhere else in a different market.”
After purchasing the property, Harrison was approached by Shelburne County MLA Nolan Young to see if he might consider the possibility of converting the former church into much-needed housing. Low-cost financing would be available from CMHC for such an endeavor.
“Before we were able to ascertain viability, as well as to be able to keep some use as a retirement house, the fires came,” Harrison says.
With “hotshots coming from all over the country” to help battle the Barrington Lake Wildfire, the vacant church building was made available to the Shelburne Fire Department to use for staging, housing, or whatever the need was.
“After the firemen left there was a free store, a charitable organization that needed a place to gather donations to support the people burnt out.” They used the church property. “They are just wrapping up operations now,” says Harrison.
With the summer and time lost for planning, winter coming, and no forward motion on a plan, it created a need to put 36 John St. on the market again, says Harrison.
“It’s a massive building,” he says, with 12,000 square feet of cubic volume. “We would be glad to have another entity create a conversion to that much-needed housing. But without being there, the most likely candidate will probably be a large family like us needing a large home. I’m in real estate and do construction here but I can’t do it from a distance. It doesn’t make sense.”
Located in a commercial zone “all things are possible with current zoning” when it comes to developing the property, Harrison says.
Bringing the salmon back
Just because 36 John St. is back on the market doesn’t mean Harrison is not pursuing other endeavors in Shelburne County.
“We aren’t letting go of Shelburne dreams, not at all. In fact, we have some riverfront property that needs a little help to bring back the salmon. Actually, a lot of help, but we have the enthusiasm,” Harrison says.
“My real estate company also has a non-profit organization called the Sag Harbour Oyster Club. We don’t have salmon here but the hero of the story is the oyster, which basically cleans the tidal reach of all kinds of leachates, which happens when a coastal area gets too crowded, too much lawn fertilizer, household waste,” Harrison says. “We needed to bring back the oysters so that’s how we started here. In the charter, it’s clean water advocacy so it speaks directly to bringing the salmon back. So there’s a connection there.”
On the Clyde River, Harrison owns a mile of western river frontage, below The Trout Hole, The Branch Shoals & Potters Run. On the other side is 40,000 acres of forest owned by the Crown in a patchwork comprising 1.5 million acres of The Nova Scotia Biosphere Wilderness.
“I know that 16-inch trout live in the Upper Clyde, near the bridge and some deep pools near the falls,” says Harrison, noting alewives (kayaks) made it upriver to spawn in the spring, which is a positive sign because alewives are sea-run, anadromous fish like the Atlantic Salmon.
While low PH levels in Nova Scotia rivers are a contributing factor to the decline of wild Atlantic Salmon, another positive sign could come from the recent forest fires.
“Wood Ash has a PH between 10-12 and that is a slow leach in the watershed, and it could mitigate the problem under a single winter of snow, but it could still move the needle enough to set the table for success in a real way. Imagine a full run of 35,000 adult salmon again?” reads a post on the Sag Harbour Oyster Club Facebook page.
The old bowling alley
Located on Main Street in Clark’s Harbour in the centre of town is the former Island Lanes 8,000-square-foot building, purchased by Harrison three years ago.
“Garian Construction is helping me to plan something there,” he says. “I wish I was there. I’m kind of spread thin on projects. I have plans for a 13-unit retrofit, as well as a two-story version, which isn’t close to Shelburne like the church is, but it is only a few steps from the fleet.”
Celina Archambault, a real estate agent with Royal LePage, has the listing for 36 John St.
“This church will be an incredible project I would love to see come to light,” she says.
Archambault foresees a boom coming in the real estate market on Nova Scotia’s southwest shore, “as there’s precious stunning properties available and pristine white sandy beaches, plus better overall warmer and sunny weather.”
“The problem is they do need a lot of work and not everyone is capable to take them on and fix it up into something modern. There is a housing crisis here and there are many could-be gorgeous homes, that could be turned into multi-units. The projects would require an investment of time, money and effort, but the finished result would be well worth it.”
Nova Scotia has some of the most beautiful old historic homes, says Archambault, who would love to see more of a movement in repairing some of these gorgeous properties before it’s too late.
“Unfortunately, there is a combination of a housing crisis combined with empty houses and buildings falling into disrepair throughout the region.”