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Bastion reopens after extensive renovations

Dressed in period costume from the late 19th century, Nanaimo Museum interns Karine Jolicoeur, left, and Alex McDonald await visitors to the newly renovated Nanaimo Bastion. After being closed for a year, Nanaimo’s iconic structure opened to visitors Thursday. - TOBY GORMAN/The News Bulletin
Dressed in period costume from the late 19th century, Nanaimo Museum interns Karine Jolicoeur, left, and Alex McDonald await visitors to the newly renovated Nanaimo Bastion. After being closed for a year, Nanaimo’s iconic structure opened to visitors Thursday.
— image credit: TOBY GORMAN/The News Bulletin

Welcome back, Bastion.

Nanaimo’s most iconic structure reopened this week after major renovations that included removing its cone-shaped roof and replacing interior wooden timbers.

The project cost about $308,000, but the Bastion is standing tall and straight – it had a three-degree list to it – and is ready to accept thousands of visitors who will take the time to venture back into the Harbour City’s history.

The Bastion officially reopened Thursday, just in time for the Empire Days weekend, under cobalt blue skies and a fresh breeze to dozens of people who turned out for the ceremony and a tour of the new displays inside.

"It was very sad last year not having the Bastion open," said Debbie Trueman, general manager of the Nanaimo Museum. "We missed it and we're very happy it's open and very pleased with the new exhibit. The Bastion really is the heart of the city when you think of how many businesses use it in their name and in their logos. It's the symbol of our community."

Renovation crews managed to save 90 per cent of the original beams during the restoration. Other upgrades included an improved sprinkler system to guard against fires. A fresh coat of paint was also applied instead of a lime whitewash to maintain historical accuracy and improve the wood's ability to breathe.

The entire restoration process was documented through digital video and photography.

The Bastion was originally built in 1853 by the Hudson's Bay Company and is the last of the original free-standing HBC bastions. It was also the company's only foray into the coal industry.

Though the three-storey, octagon-shaped building once served as a guardian for Nanaimo, its interior cannons were never fired in an act of aggression, though they often fired to welcome visitors who arrived by boat. They were capable of sending a six-pound shot over Newcastle Channel to Protection Island.

The structure has been moved three times from its original position overlooking the harbour and a smattering of 19th century homes and businesses.

"With HBC being here in 1853 and still being here today, it just shows our support for the history of Nanaimo," said Lee Nolan, general manager for HBC-Nanaimo. "It's part of the heritage of Nanaimo and being proud to live in Nanaimo."

Nolan said taking a tour inside the Bastion feels "like a walk back in history."

HBC donated $80,000 toward the project and the store here raised an additional $6,000 to assist with renovation costs. Local businessman Sidney Sharman donated $50,000.

The Bastion was officially opened at noon, punctuated by the firing of two cannons in Pioneer Waterfront Plaza. Bernie Dumas, president of the Nanaimo Port Authority fired the first one. Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan was supposed fire the second cannon, but voluntarily relinquished the honour to two students, Zachary Duval and Thomas Morrice, of St. Matthew's Band visiting from Ottawa.

Downtown businesswoman Willow Chandler, who owns House of Indigo, said she was impressed at the quality of workmanship and care that went into the renovations.

"It still has that authentic feel, it's simple and spacious," said Chandler, who helped raise money for the project. "The beams used as replacements were hand-chiseled. Every detail was considered. Having the Bastion back will be great for downtown store owners."

Jim Ayers, visiting from New Westminster, said he was impressed not only by the Bastion after taking a tour, but by how the community rallied around it.

"It's awesome," he said. "I can see that a lot of people in this town put a lot of passion into their projects and it's really great. There's this feeling of everybody here contributing to the community. I love this town, it's beautiful."

The Bastion is open for the summer season daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cannons fire at noon.

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