Inside the doors of the town’s community hotspot lies a rich history and a promising future.
The Mary Winspear Centre.
Executive Director Brad Edgett walked the PNR through the Centre’s beginning, its success, its struggles and what’s to come.
It all began in 1921. The Women’s Auxiliary and the Sidney and North Saanich Athletic Club came together to form the Sidney and North Saanich War Memorial Park Society. The lands were purchased from a fellow named Edwyn Blackburn and were held in trust to pay respect to the soldiers from the Saanich Peninsula who gave their lives in the service of Canada in the First World War.
Held in trust, the lands were home to baseball diamonds, a park, tennis courts and a cenotaph — which was later rededicated to include soldiers who died in the Second World War.
Years later, in 1957, the Sidney and North Saanich Community Hall Association (SANSCHA) Hall was created. By 1965, the Sidney North Saanich War Memorial Park Society ended its run as an organization. From 1965 to 1986, the trust was held by Royal Trust. In the meantime, the Saanscha Hall was still there — a real gathering place for community groups.
“It was a real community area,” Edgett said.
In ‘86, Royal Trust gave up management of the lands and the Sidney North Saanich War Memorial Park Society was reformed in a new entity called the Memorial Park Society (or in long form, the Sidney and North Saanich Memorial Park Society). The SANSCHA Hall was still thriving and so the land was left in trust for all residents of Sidney and North Saanich to enjoy.
In 1997 the SANSCHA Foundation was created to raise money for a new facility — The Mary Winspear Centre. The community raised $7.5 million to build the building. A man by the name of Bill Winspear, a businessman and philanthropist, gave a gift of $1 million in his aunt’s name — the main reason why the centre is named the way it is.
Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre opened in 2001 — one of three such centres, the other in Edmonton Alberta and Dallas, Texas.
The centre is the home to many events, concerts, weddings and more. All the revenue goes to operate the building. Grants from the Town of Sidney and District of North Saanich contribute to its operating funds.
“If we didn’t get the support from the municipalities, we would not be in existence,” said Edgett.
Edgett said the mandate of the Centre has changed over the years since it opened. After he took over as executive director in 2012, Edgett saw the facility was going through challenges and operating with the focus on the corporate side of things, rather than on the community.
“And so my focus, when I took over in 2012, was to bring the community back to the centre and the centre back to the community. That was my mantra.”
And it’s been very successful with the community embracing the centre, he added, with many community groups now using the facility more often.
“It’s taken us 15 years to get where we should be,” said Edgett. “We’re at a stage now where we are reaching our mandate which is to be the centre of your experience.”
Looking to the future, the Centre has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Town of Sidney to develop the south east corner of the lands for the new community safety building. The society submitted an application to the Supreme Court of British Columbia asking to amend their trust document, to allow them to enter into longer term leases to accommodate the Town.
“For us it establishes a model for being financially sustainable,” said Edgett.
He said the idea of land leases allows the society to focus on the capital replacement of the building and its assets. At 15 years old, he said, the society will have to make repairs soon.
Edgett said the society submitted the court application on Oct. 23, 2015. They are still waiting for a decision from the court.
If the change in their trust document is granted, Edgett said they will move ahead with the municipality on a lease agreement.
In the meantime, the Mary Winspear Centre is looking to modernize.
A big theatre renovation was completed in 2012 with new lighting and new sound equipment.
“Over the next 15 years, there will be a capital replacement plan in place,” Edgett said.
As for expansion?
“In my five year plan, I’ve looked at expansion,” replied Edgett, adding he doesn’t think their would be a significantly large expansion to the theatre.
“Right now we’re very fortunate because we don’t really compete with a lot of other theatres.”
In their five-year plan, the society will look at an external expansion to the southwest of the building to accommodate other user groups.
The Centre’s current operating budget is around $1.4 million.
Edgett said the society will also be looking to the Centre’s past, in celebrating the Centre’s 15th anniversary. He said they are looking at holding a large event in September to recognize the milestone.
“It’s going to be all about the past, it’s going to be all about the hard work of the people that got us to where we are today, so those board members and those donors that had the foresight to create this amazing building. It’s going to be all about them to say thank you for everything that they’ve done …”