William and Katherine Bell left a lasting legacy in Sudbury.
Today, even decades after their deaths, they are still remembered for their contributions to the community.
The couple, who moved to Sudbury around the turn of the century, owned 155 acres surrounding Ramsey Lake where they built the Belrock Mansion. Their homestead has been the topic of much conversation as of late.
The Friends of Belrock, also known as the Bell Mansion Project, are looking to build a sustainable future for the 1907 mansion.
Belrock is currently owned by Laurentian University, and rented to the Art Gallery of Sudbury. The AGS is in the process of relocating, so it is now time to explore the future of the historic heritage building.
Gord Drysdale is spearheading the Bell Mansion Project. He said the group has no desire to own the house.
“We want to be the stewards,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of The Friends of Belrock, Drysdale said he would like the see the building returned to its original state to illustrate “how the Bells lived at the time.”
“The possibility to rebuild the house exactly as it was is there,” Drysdale said, speaking to a small group of interested citizens at the Jubilee Hall Dec. 11. It is “viable, but not cheap,” he said.
Drysdale estimated it would cost about $4 million to return the house to the way it was when the Bell family occupied it. He wants to get every detail right — from the location of the walls in the 6,000-square-foot home to the print on the wallpaper.
“It's such a huge arts and crafts house,” he said. “There's a resurgence in appreciation for arts and crafts architecture.”
Alan Nursall, president of the AGS's board of directors, was present at the meeting. He said whatever steps are taken to protect “the single most important heritage building in Sudbury” will be a “big obligation.”
He said the likelihood of returning the 105-year-old home to its original state for the purpose of opening a period home is low.
“One of the reasons we have to get out of there is it's not a very good place for a museum,” Nursall said.
“There are shortcomings. The gallery has to get out of there because of those shortcomings. Access in that facility is a huge issue.
“Where are you going to put the elevator?” Nursall said. It's a question the AGS has already been asked.
That doesn't mean the building can't remain the Bell Mansion. Many of the individuals who attended the meeting agreed there is value in keeping the historic building intact.
“We're tired of having our beautiful places destroyed or taken away,” one interested citizen said. The primary question that kept resurfacing was how the venue could be self-sustaining, to “keep this out of taxpayer dollars.”
Stuart McCall, the proprietor of McGrow Farms in Garson and a member of the Sudbury Horticultural Society's board of directors, spoke about land surrounding the home.
“I'd like to see it as a production centre of some sort,” he said.
McCall said plants could be grown on the property and sold in support of Belrock, fitting with the Bell's love of green spaces and parkland.
Suggestions of turning the facility into a part-time bed and breakfast or a conference space were also presented.
“We have no elegant special events venues,” Timothy Pella said.
Using the facility for weddings, special meetings and other social events could allow the facility to cover its own expenses and give reason for renovating it.
“It could, in theory, support itself,” Pella said.
Before any steps are taken to begin work on the home, funding first needs to be put in place, and logistics need to be sorted. Mark Simeoni, manager of community and strategic planning, said the property the mansion sits on is zoned institutional. While the house itself is protected, the land is not, he said.
In the meantime, the Friends of Belrock are welcoming community input on the future of the mansion. For more information, join the Facebook group Friends of Belrock.
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