Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Doors Open - Smiths Falls

Life has been very busy lately but I want to get caught up over the next couple of posts by sharing some of the places I've been to recently.

Open Doors Ontario is a cultural event that started in 2002. Doors of heritage buildings such as churches, factories, museums, town halls are opened for free tours. The different communities involved thankfully scatter their events over the calendar from April to October, so there is no conflict if you want to visit the buildings in more than one town. Try searching for a town near you by clicking Here.

On June 9th it was Open Doors in Smiths Falls.  We wanted to go and see what was being done to the Gallipeau Centre. That used to be Rideau Regional, a huge hospital complex for the mentally disabled. It housed over 2000 patients at one point, and employed a great many people from around the area. The government decided to close it down in 2009, and put the residents into various group homes. This was not a good thing, by my way of thinking, as many of these people had never known any other home. This facility had many people who were not capable of being integrated into society anyway, which is what group homes are for. 

I understand that there were classrooms for those who could be taught whatever they were capable of learning, and there was a theatre, a gym and a swimming pool, so it was really a community setting where these people could live a life as happy and productive as possible. After the government closed the place up, it sat empty for several years. The Ontario Provincial Police then used part of it while building their new headquarters nearby. Also when there was a big forest fire, or some other such disaster up north, a whole community of aboriginals was moved into the facility until they could go back home.  But mainly, it was completely deserted.

 Then along came Mr Joe Gallipeau, who purchased the entire site and began renovating it with plans to turn it into a seniors village. Construction has begun to turn these institutional buildings into beautiful living space.

He has added those grey extensions onto each apartment.  They are lovely three season rooms, with great cross ventilation.  I'm totally impressed with what he's done with these old buildings so far. 
On the ground floor of this one there will be a doctor's office, a physio therapist, and likely some other kind of medical office. Making such services so easily available to the residents of this new community was a brilliant idea.
Another building, not attached to the apartment complex, is where the pool, gym and theatre are.  The pool has been empty since the place closed down. Last winter there was a grant available through the Aviva Community Foundation, that various communities were competing for.  I was on Facebook each and every day reminding people to get their vote in for the Smiths Falls pool.  And it won :)  $99,000 was awarded to get it back up and running again.  It's expected to be reopened in July, they told us on our tour.  Meanwhile the gym has now reopened, and I see there is another room where they have instructors in such things as Pilates and Yoga, and another room which will be a daycare so people can leave their kids there while they get some exercise.  All that building will be open to the public and anyone can use it.  

The apartments are going to be rented out to people aged 55 and up, and they are renting them as fast as they can reconstruct them....or probably there is now a waiting list to get into them. Each apartment is actually larger than my own house, so I find the rents to be quite reasonable, and everything is included.  The only other expense anyone living there would have to cover would be their phone, cable and internet. I also learned that those services would be free for the first three months if you were the first tenant in any unit, and signed on to Cogeco.   I'd happily live there.  They would just have to have a shuttle bus into town and I'd be all set.
While we were on the grounds of the old Rideau Regional Centre, we also visited the Hart Laundry Services. As I said  this used to be a hospital so they had their own laundry building.  I think they used to also take care of the laundry from the Smiths Falls and Perth hospital too, but when the fascility closed down, they had to take their business elsewhere. Kemptville hospital is now using it though, and so are some of the nursing homes, etc.  It was interesting to be guided through how the system works.  It's all automated, of course, and they seem to have a very efficient system for running through as much as 5 tonnes of laundry a day without using excess water or electricity to do so.

Another building I wanted to see was an old train station that now functions as a theatre.  I could not picture how they did that, so I had to go see for myself.
They used some old girders to help support the place, and built a neat little bridge from the mezzanine to the actual theatre.  I'm quite impressed.  
A guide took us all through the place, back stage, the green room, the workshop, the whole bit. All while a production was actually taking place on the stage.  
A new train station has been built on the edge of town. The theatre is totally manned and repaired  by volunteers. If you are looking for a volunteer job, they likely could find a way to use your talents, so give them a call.

The only other place I wanted to see that day was the local radio station.  I now understand why they moved from a building outside of town into a couple of offices downtown. They simply don't need all the ticker tape and other news gathering equipment they used to need. I tried to get a picture in there, but it was too crowded.

In conjunction with Doors Open, the Smiths Falls Russel Street merchants decided to extend the fun a bit by having buskers and an art show, both Saturday and Sunday.  Shirley Mancino is a renowned artist, who is very versatile. On this occasion she decided to demonstrate various abstract techniques.  While I had personally tried some of what she did before, I did learn a few new tricks.  She's quite entertaining when she's demonstrating....or any other time, I imagine.  I certainly enjoyed the demo, and would love to take one of her workshops. If anyone else in the area ever wanted to go, I hope they let me know.  I'd need a ride to Wesport, where her studio is located. 

In my next post, I'll tell you about the Brockville Wine and Food Show, and the Tall Ships I saw that day.

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