Pictured in front of Forward House are left to right: Dan Roddick, master, Friendly Brothers Masonic Lodge of Iroquois, Sheila Holmes president, Ladies Auxiliary, Iroquois Royal Canadian Legion and Stephen McDonald. File Photo

MORRISBURG – If all goes as planned, it looks like the Forward House in Iroquois might just get a second lease on life with the addition of a functioning tearoom and gift shop in the coming years.

During the November 15 Municipality of South Dundas Committee of the Whole meeting, the Historical Society of South Dundas (HSSD)’s Stephen MacDonald presented a business plan and development proposal for the Forward House in Iroquois. The two-part proposal includes year-round public access to the building, where visitors can meet, shop at an on-site store, or peruse the historic displays, and a seasonal tearoom.

“Council is basically hoping that somebody, a group like yours, will take on the Forward House. We have no desire to spend any money on it, as you know. That’s a well-established fact twice around this table,” Mayor Steven Byvelds said prior to the start of the presentation. “You’ve done a lot of work and I think council wants to hear that work and make sure that they’re comfortable where you’re going.”

MacDonald presented two documents, the business plan and proposal and a draft lease agreement. He said both documents build on what the HSSD presented to council in December 2020.

“It gives a lot more depth, a lot more direction, and a lot more solid figures,” MacDonald said of the new proposal. “The important aspects of the business plan and development proposal are really that we’re building in financial sustainability in Forward House and we’re doing that by establishing a heritage tearoom and gift shop in phase three.”

MacDonald said the group has modeled their plans on the Carter House in New Brunswick. He said the local community renovated the 200-year-old Loyalist house and turned it into a tearoom that has been operating since 1999, which has been sustainably generating funds.

“It’s been a real boom for that community,” MacDonald said.

HSSD’s plan includes five phases with each representing a roughly one-year timeframe.

The plan is for Forward House to begin generating revenue by the third phase of the project.

“We’re using a pay-as-you-go approach over a five-year period,” MacDonald said. “There’s really two streams of activities at play here. We have a fundraising stream over five years with various partners and, concurrent to that, we have a renovation stream of work tasks that have to be done and funded as we go along. We think this is a very pragmatic approach. It lessens our dependence on grants and contributions and increases the actual raising of funds from the community itself of South Dundas. So, the major sources of money are pretty well split even.”

MacDonald talked about the group’s plan to be strategic in everything they do, including fundraising and applying for grants.

He mentioned working with mentor groups, noting that the HSSD has developed a very strong network with other not-for-profit groups with a successful track record for securing grants.

“Bringing money to the table is important. Having a high level of community support is important. Having a significant number of partners involved in whatever enterprise you’re pursuing, that’s important,” MacDonald said. He said the plan also includes a strategic approach to soliciting funds from corporations and other potential benefactors.

MacDonald said that since he returned to the HSSD’s membership in September, he’s seen a strong degree of community support for the project. He said sponsors and contributors have been coming forward with offers to help, as they believe the final product could be a draw for tourism.

“We’ve held off doing serious campaigning pending a lease agreement and pending a decision with this council,” he said. “We really haven’t striven to gather money, yet we’ve already collected $11,500 in the Forward House fund.”

MacDonald said the group is anxious to move forward with the project. While they’ve been waiting for approval and working on the plan, he said they’ve also been strengthening the HSSD’s membership.

“We’ve strengthened our society,” he said. “We have a new vice president, that’s me, and we have two new directors. We’ve increased our membership from 21 to 31. We have 10 very active members. Our goal is to have 40 members by this time next year. We know we’ll reach that because members are coming on board because they’re aware that we’re trying to save Forward House.”

When it came time for council comments, Councillor Lloyd Wells said he was impressed, even more so than he was after the group’s first proposal. Councillor Archie Mellan said he thought guidelines should be clearly set out to show what the group is responsible for versus what the municipality’s responsibility might be, as Forward House is a municipal property.

“I do like the business plan,” Councillor Don Lewis said. “It’s most likely the best that I’ve seen for the Forward House.”

Following an outline of her concerns, Deputy Mayor Kirsten Gardner said the proposal sounds great, and she’s been a supporter of this project since before she became an elected official. If the Forward House project is successful, and you add the Iroquois Waterfront and Carman House to the mix, then Iroquois could become “the heritage mecca for South Dundas.”

“So, I take it that’s a greenlight for us to proceed with a campaign and to get the work done, and in the meantime to work on a lease agreement,” MacDonald said.

Byvelds said the lease agreement needs to be settled first, noting that it would be done in a time efficient manner to allow the group to get moving sooner. Council agreed to continue the heating and dehumidifying of the property to secure it through the winter. If all goes as discussed, a lease agreement could be in place before the end of the year.