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Picton’s historic Legion to become international culinary school

Watching Royal Canadian Legion President Pat Burrows help listing realtor Kevin Gale to put the ‘sold’ sign in place are building committee members Ted Taylor, Larry Tillings, Bill and Mary Cannons. (member Tom McCaw missing from photo).

(UPDATE: The couple began restorations originally intending to open a culinary arts school. But as the project evolved, the new future of the building is as a culinary-themed space for events, conferences and weddings of up to 500 guests).

Emotions ranged from joy to a tinge of sadness – but mostly great relief – as Royal Canadian Legion President Pat Burrows helped screw in the ‘sold’ sign Tuesday morning on the lawn of the branch’s historic Main Street, Picton mansion.

He and members of the Legion’s building committee joined listing agent Kevin Gale to make the sale by realtor Elizabeth Crombie public knowledge on Tuesday morning.

The 152-year-old Ross/McMullen house has been home to the Picton Legion for 70 years – purchased by Prince Edward County Council and presented as a gift to Branch 78. It was officially opened by Govenor General Lord Alexander of Tunis, of Nov. 20, 1948. Tunis said then it was the most impressive Legion Hall of any he had visited.

Burrows had mixed emotions but was relieved the two-year process, made fraught by a fire, is almost finished.

“I have been a member for 46 years – 17 on the executive and four as president – and this has been my home,” said Burrows. “This is our clubhouse, and our home, and there are a lot of members who think the same way.”

The membership agreed two years ago to put their ‘home’ on the market after numerous fundraising attempts over the years to keep it viable.

“At one time this Legion had over 2,000 members and our veterans were alive and in good shape,” said Burrows. “Now, we have less than 270 members and, as you know, costs and utilities just keep going up. We just couldn’t afford to maintain the building.”

The Ross/McMullen house was built as a private residence in 1864-65 by Lt. Col. Walter Ross, the first commander of the County’s first Regiment of Volunteers from 1863 – 1883. Ross served eight years as councillor and four as Mayor of Picton.
In 1884, the property was bought by Ruth McMullen whose husband George worked in the United States and Canada, then took over the Prince Edward Railway. It was purchased by Dr. Roblin in the mid-1930s, who had married George’s daughter, Ethel.

There was hope when Greg Sorbara, responsible for the stunning restoration to Picton’s Royal Hotel, expressed interest in the mansion in 2016 and was investigating options available to create a residential development.

Legion secretary Mary Cannons shows the room where the fire was as it now looks.

But it was a fire on July 5, 2016 that pushed the membership out. Flames were contained to one first-floor room and smoke damage throughout the first and second floors, but some artifacts, including flags and documents on the walls, were destroyed.

“After the fire the Elks were kind enough to offer us use of their hall and we’re grateful,” said Burrows.

Members are continuing the arduous process of packing up belongings in the 13,000-plus square foot building. Cardboard boxes, carefully labelled, are now stacked in neat piles in the hall used by the Legion members and many community groups over the years.

“I’m happy to see this accomplished before my term is up in June,” said Burrows, adding the Branch, working with Provincial Command, will continue its search for a reasonably-priced, much smaller building, to become their new home.

The storied building’s next chapter will begin to unfold at the end of May, as an international culinary school.

Royal LePage realtor Elizabeth Crombie noted it is a great use for a very traditional building and she is happy to see it sold to the perfect buyer. Her client, Jonathan Kearns, has lived at Morrison Point since the late 1980s, and in Toronto.

“We needed somewhere to take the kids when they were small and while designing a home in Newcastle, they said ‘You think this city is nice, you should check out Prince Edward County’ and we did, and we loved it.”

His firm, Kearns-Mancini Architects Inc., designed the George Brown College Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts in Toronto and its renowned Chefs House, Restaurant, among dozens of high-profile projects.

A carefully crafted path of turning the historic mansion in Picton into an international culinary school is expected to take a few years.

“We will have a lot of due dilgence with planning, research, budgeting and testing before any of this becomes a reality so it will proceed in phases,” said Kearns. “We will be proceeding carefully over the next few years getting all the right pieces in place. We want it to be of great benefit to the community.”

The Legion’s notable monuments to the army, navy and airforce that have been placed on the lawn over the years will also find new homes.

One of two cannons donated by canning pioneer Wellington Boulter.

The two cannons, donated by canning pioneer Wellington Boulter, will be moved to Glenwood cemetery.

Glenwood board chair Sandra Latchford is thrilled to welcome the cannons to the Ferguson Street Picton cemetery and has already met with descendants of the Wellington Boulter family to begin arrangments. The Boulter family plot is located in Glenwood but the location of the cannons is being kept secret for now.

Latchford said a fundraising project will soon be launched to cover expenses for new concrete pads and a crane to lift the heavy cannons into place.

The anchor and bench will go to the Mariner’s Museum in South Bay, the Howlitzer and Royal Canadian Air Force Association Bombing and Gunnery School monuments will also have new homes.

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  1. Emery says:

    This will certainly entice people from Ontario and beyond to visit Picton. A great addition to the already superb eating and dining establishments we have in the county.

  2. hockeynan says:

    Wonderful idea Paul

  3. Fred says:

    I have always thought this was the correct route Paul.

  4. Paul Cole says:

    I find it kind of a sad story but I do understand the situation with declining membership and maintenance cost associated with such a large building. Now if the County was to offer say an open ended in kind lease agreement for the old Picton Firehall which has an elevator and is wheelchair accessible to the Legion Membership as a place to call home so to speak and if the monies from the sale of the old Legion were used for any upgrades they may require and the remainder placed in a maintainance/operating cost account. With the County retaining ownership of the Old Firehall and the Legion Membership taking responsibility for maintenance and operating costs it could be a win win for both The County and Our Veterans… Just an idea..

  5. Colleen Leighton says:

    What a wonderful new purpose for this historic building! Congratulations!

  6. Dee says:

    I read a news article that the cannons were moved from the Picton High School after it burned down, and were placed at the legion.

  7. Susan says:

    The County gave the building to the Legion. Hind sight would tell them to keep a monetary interest.

  8. Adam Ant says:

    I often thought that the county should have bought this building and make it the new county offices. Lots of room lots of parking. They continue to rent and the Edward and there was talk at one time that they were going to build new offices int he future at the cost of roughly 13 mil.
    This would have been a perfect central spotted. Too late now.

  9. Carol Love says:

    Perfect future use for this impressive building. Congratulations to all involved.

  10. Samantha says:

    This sounds like a great plan for this wonderful old building.

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