By Leanne Delong
A woodworker has taken on a 6,500-square foot challenge in Bear River and is restoring the historic Rebekah Lodge building.
John Welch grew up in Cape Breton and in his early 20s headed out west to find work. His father is from Brier Island. Over the years he has visited Bear River and for the past eight years has owned a home there. “It’s a great community,” he said. “I love the architecture of this town. It’s kind of got like a bit of an edge to it, I like that. I like the fact it has a great arts community for a little community in the middle of nowhere.”
Welch is a woodworker and tree planter with the skill to build guitars and roast coffee beans. “I built guitars for a couple of years, it’s a romantic thing to do but it doesn’t really pay the bills,” he said. After seeing the for sale sign in front of the Rebekah Lodge, Welch thought, “You know, I think that’s my property.” He purchased the building last April.
His plan originally was to set up a woodworking area in the Rebekah Lodge, but as renovations began, so did a number of different projects.
The building holds a bike shop, Bare Canvas Studio and Gallery and an entertainment area upstairs. There is also a bit of history is in the basement. Built in the 1920s, the building once housed a Royal Bank and still has the vault in the basement.
The building was owned by the International Order of Odd Fellows and was a meeting spot for the Daughters of the Eastern Star, a Mason order for women, Welch explained. “One of the reasons I bought this place I think it is really important to have more lights on in the community. I think a lot of people believe this is a dying community and I think that it’s probably at its greatest potential right now for re-birth,” he said.
As Welch gave a tour of the building, the smell of coffee beans filled the air. Near the back is the only commercial coffee roaster in southwestern Nova Scotia. “I’ve always loved roasting coffee. I love coffee itself but going on ten 10 or so I’ve been sticking my nose into every single coffee I’ve come across,” Welch said.
He operates a business called Sissiboo Coffee Roaster, selling fair trade, organic coffee with the help of his girlfriend Erin who helps with building renovations as well.
Continuing through the building to end up in the basement, Welch said he has taken seven or eight tons of garbage and debris out of the basement.
The lower level of the bank vault still sits in the basement but Welch is in the process of removing it because it is pulling down the building’s foundation.
Rebekah Lodge gets face-lift
Building is transformed into bike shop, entertainment centre and more
By Leanne Delong
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