MARITIME EXPRESS’S HOTEL TAKEOVER
The taproom of the Maritime Express Cider Company sits in what was once the grand entrance to the Cornwallis Inn, constructed in 1930 by a subsidiary of CP Railway to service rail passengers travelling through Kentville. Like other CP Railway hotels, the Cornwallis Inn was a showstopper, and despite several renovations, evidence of the grandeur remains.
Impressive granite walls that once formed the hotel exterior enclose the taproom, the frame of the old revolving door still in place. It is a beautiful room, one that makes Maritime Express co-owner and cider maker Jimi Doidge think, “This is unreal,” every time he walks in. “We are so lucky,” he says. “We could never build a space like this, and the building adds to what we are doing. Right away, we had the branding done, and we could play with the railroad theme.” Some of their ciders even get their names from the trains that serviced the original Kentville line, and you’ll see nods to railways in the cidery’s branding and throughout the space.
Initially, they only planned to open the taproom and build a production area in the basement. But since opening in October 2018, Maritime Express has grown its footprint to license and use most of the former hotel’s first floor. The historic revolving door to the lobby and opens on to plush sofas beneath a ceiling mural of a blue sky dotted with fluffy clouds. There’s a dining room off to one side, filled with carefully chosen period adornments and furniture made by Doidge to compliment the wood-panelling and ornate original fixtures perfectly. Everything has been carefully restored not just by the cidery, but also the property management company, Safeguard, who Doidge says has been instrumental in bringing this building back to its former glory (a company in Toronto owns the property).
“Five years ago, there were only four businesses here, but now there are more than 30, plus there are 90 residences above. They don’t even have to advertise the residences, they’re fully rented, and they are beautiful,” Doidge says. “The old penthouse rooms in the clock tower have double doors, fireplaces, and three bedrooms. And the other apartments are each made of two hotel rooms.”
Another star feature of the sprawling property is the ballroom, renovated to a bright and gorgeous event space that the cidery uses to host weddings and the occasional show—again never part of the original plan but something Kentville locals adore. “We get people in here all the time whose grandparents got married here, and they want to get married here,” Doidge says. The concerts they’ve hosted have been awesome, and they sold 300 tickets for a Halloween party pretty much as soon as they released. “I had no idea when we opened that there was a need for people in this area to get out and do stuff, and our audience ranges from 19-year-olds to 70-year-olds,” Doidge says.
DEVIATION FROM THE DREAM
Owning a business this big was never part of Doidge’s original plan. He moved to the Valley from Hamilton, Ontario, with his wife four years ago. They were looking for a change and moved to Centreville sight unseen after researching places to buy a little farm and start their family. Cider making was Doidge’s hobby, and initially, he wanted to start an orchard and small farm cidery, take things slow. “But then I fell in love with Kentville and was looking for some way to do it here, maybe start a small tasting room,” he explains, “Then I met my business partner Scott Hearn, who’d been looking to start something similar and we decided to just go for it.”
The original plan also never included a restaurant, though it’s now a huge draw for the cidery. “In order to be allowed to have children in, and to serve wine and beer, we needed to serve food. The kitchen for the hotel was sitting empty, so we started with a small menu, then that took off, and we met with chef Steph Levac who was really interested in doing something that he could control. Since he came in it has been crazy, and we’ve basically turned into a restaurant.”
From start to finish, renovations took 250 days. “We had to paint everything, put new floors in, and thankfully the foundations in the basement are poured concrete so didn’t need to be fortified to hold the tanks. Putting a drain in was challenging, and the ceiling height means that one of our tanks almost skims the ceiling, but everything fits in,” Doidge says. Clearly, the space seems perfectly suited to everything they wanted to achieve, and then some. There’s still room to grow and plans to renovate another dining room space. “I don’t ever want to get too big, although I’d like a few more tanks at some point.”
Maritime Express is always busy, and it is clear the business provides something welcome and necessary to the community. “Before we opened, I was here all day and all night, worried because we had no idea really,” Doidge says, “Then when we opened, and people were here, trying and liking our cider, and that felt just awesome.”
CHURCH BREWING BECOMES A LOCAL CORNERSTONE
When Erin Haysom, Church Brewing co-founder and community relations manager, was looking for property to move home and start a brewery after living in Alberta for seventeen years, she came across many disused churches. “We were driving around the province with our kids, and there were so many beautiful churches for sale. It seemed like a no brainer that we could buy one and celebrate the history while turning it into a place where people could congregate once again,” she says.
The church they (Haysom, along with her husband Matthew Haysom, brother-in-law Steve Haysom, and longtime friend Brendan Nichol) ultimately chose is uniquely beautiful. The building, constructed in 1914, was designed by renowned Nova Scotia architect Andrew Cobb who was also responsible for many exceptional builds in the province, including the Dingle in Halifax and many of the buildings on the Dalhousie and Acadia campuses. Walking through the doors, you might think the owners stumbled upon a church perfectly preserved. In reality, the building had long been stripped of most of its religious artifacts during its previous incarnations (a winemaking shop, a medi-spa, and an IT business, to name a few). Filling the space with authentic relics has been a labour of love that continues today.
The church still has its original vaulted wood “Noah’s Ark” ceiling and a glorious stained glass window in the sanctuary, but the pews and other original church furnishings are long gone. The side room that serves as a tasting room/retail store was an empty box (once upon a time the entrance to Sunday school), but it blends harmoniously with the rest of the space.
Haysom explains that local cabinet maker Karl DeCoste of DeCoste Kitchens did a beautiful job of all the woodwork in the renovation, including making bars and tables from recycled bowling alley tops found in Bridgetown. “We only wanted to use local tradesmen, and we are so happy with the results.”
“A lot of the trim and the chandelier over the bar was salvaged from St. John’s United Church on Windsor Street in Halifax. The church was derelict and had squatters, and anything light enough to be taken was long gone, but the trim was attached to the massive pipe organ that was too heavy to move,” explains Haysom. Another cool find from that same church was eight brass bells that were sent over after the Halifax Explosion from England to replace bells lost in the blast. (Hence naming their pale ale Eight Bells.)
“We also tried to keep the integrity of anything that was here from the original church,” says Michelle Slade, who handles marketing and sales. “In the restaurant you can still see the marks from where the pews were attached to the walls, because why would you want to sand out that history?” The only part of the church that is brand new is the massive brewery, but history still seeps through there too—one of those salvaged bells hangs over the beer tanks, chime still in place, ready to be rung—for fun or to celebrate a new brew.
Salvaging from old churches has become a bit of a hobby for Haysom. “I have all the antique store owners in my contacts, and I’m always calling to say, “Hi, did you get anything new? It is really fun to find things like the pulpit, which came from a church in Canning and is where our hostesses and hosts get to greet people as they come in during the wintertime.”
Haysom and her team discovered a lot about the building’s history during the renovations. They uncovered the cornerstone when building their spacious patio and making the premises accessible, but have also learnt lots from locals who come to enjoy all they offer. “People come in and say, ‘My grandfather did this, or my grandmother was here when they laid the stones,’ and that’s really fun. We’re learning a lot.”
Many previous members of the congregation have embraced what Church Brewing has achieved in the former house of worship—which is what the team hoped. The idea of congregation is so essential Church named their flagship beer Congregation Pilsner. “The old congregation is coming in. People who came to the church every Sunday are regulars. We’ve had couples come in who were married here 50 years ago, it’s a trip down memory lane when they come back in, and it makes us so happy,” says Haysom, “They tell us we’ve brought this place back to life.”