Discussions about the future of Autumn Lodge in Berwyn are moving away from just coffee talk. The village has received a $10,000 matching grant from the province to find ways to repurpose the now empty building.
The former seniors home shut its doors on April 30, 2018, several months after plans to shutter the supportive living facility were announced. Berwyn deputy mayor Lisa Johnson says the hope is to be able to properly study what could be done with it next.
“We’re thrilled to get the grant to see what we could do to repurpose it, and having some formalized way to look at ideas for the lodge is sometimes a lot better than just sitting around the coffee table, so this will really help move us forward.”
In late 2017, the North Peace Housing Foundation said it would cost close to $10 million to bring the lodge built in 1959 up to modern standards. There wasn’t enough room for wheelchairs, walkers, and ramps, and asbestos was found in some of the building material.
Originally, only a couple of months notice was given, which prompted the provincial government to investigate the closure. It requires six months notice, moving the eviction date from September 30, 2017 to the end of April 2018. By then, all remaining residents were moved to either Heritage Tower Lodge in Peace River or Harvest Lodge in Fairview.
Like many small towns in the Peace country, Johnson admits Berwyn has faced some difficulties in the past few years. Speaking to the Peace Region Economic Development Alliance, she lamented both the lodge and a grocery store closing, but maintained things are looking up.
“We could all stand here and cry a river about what it’s like to try to keep a village going, but I’d like to say that with the attitude in Berwyn that we’re trying to foster that seems to be working quite well; people are really getting behind it. We might not be what we were, but what we’re going to be is even better.”
As an example, Johnson points to the recent addition of High German classes at Lloyd Garrison School, which are now being taken by 120 youth from nearby Mennonite communities. Previously, the school had just 25 students.
“So, things can really turn around,” she says.
The village is also working with Duncan’s First Nation, along with its neighbouring municipal districts and Regional Economic Development Initiatives. It partnered with Lac Cardinal Country and the MD of Peace on the Community and Regional Economic Support grant.