Delighted, overjoyed, and tired.
That’s how volunteers working to save La Vieille Maison (‘the old house’) in Meteghan felt Thursday after learning they’d placed second and won $10,000 in a national heritage preservation contest.
“It’s a second place, but a strong second place, with numbers far beyond what anyone had imagined,” Dan Robichaud told the Examiner on Thursday night.
Robichaud is secretary of La Société Vieille Maison, the non-profit society dedicated to the house’s conservation and future operation.
Considered the best-preserved example of a post-exile Acadian dwelling in Canada, La Vieille Maison dates to 1796. It was one of 10 finalists in the National Trust for Canada’s ‘Next Great Save’ online competition. It was the only finalist from a francophone community and the only one from Nova Scotia.
Voting opened Jan. 20 and wrapped up Feb. 22.
The trust initially planned to offer one $50,000 grand prize to the finalist with the most online votes. But on Feb. 15, with seven voting days left, they announced two additional prizes would be awarded. A $10,000 prize was set aside for the second place winner and $5,000 for the competitor that placed third.
By the time voting closed on Wednesday, more than 200,000 votes in total had been cast from across Canada.
The Duncan Train Station in Duncan, BC received the grand prize with 76,531 votes. La Vieille Maison garnered 52,769 votes. The Historic 1916 CNR Hope Station in Hope, BC came in third with 22,360 votes.
“Locally we are impressed by the numbers. But so is the National Trust. No one expected it to scale that quick, that big,” Robichaud said.
‘All the difference’
Robichaud said the $10,000 will make “all the difference” in helping them preserve the house and operate it as a museum.
The windfall means La Vieille Maison will now get its much-needed new roof before summer.
“The money is only part of it,” Robichaud said. “What we’ve really won here is the exposure, over 50,000 signatures, if you will, in support.”
The publicity brought more than 17,000 visitors to the museum’s website over the last month. In addition, Robichaud said their Facebook following more than doubled.
The house has a fascinating and rich history that goes beyond its age and construction. As reported here last month, world-renowned Boston dancer and choreographer Adolphe Robicheau and his partner Arthur Vaillancourt turned it into a museum of early Acadian re-settlers in 1958.
In an article about the house on its website, the National Trust for Canada described Robicheau (1906-1978) as a Canadian-born, famed Boston-based ballet teacher and member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
“While his flamboyance could have gotten him shunned in many places, he spent his summers here producing plays and working on his museum, which he curated with partner Arthur Vaillancourt,” the trust noted.
‘Recognition of its relevance and resonance’
Next steps for the Société Vieille Maison include discussions with their contractor and an online meeting with the house’s new owners (descendants of Adolphe Robicheau). They’re also busily preparing for the society’s membership drive and its first AGM.
“The selection of La Vieille Maison by the National Trust for Canada is an explicit recognition of the relevance and resonance of our project as part of Canada’s national heritage, changing forever the status of our project to national in scope,” Robichaud said.
“Like Adolphe Robicheau would have said, ‘We could have never bought public support like that.’”
‘The strength behind the hearts of all our people’
After voting closed Wednesday night, the Société Vieille Maison’s president Adrien B. Comeau shared an expression of gratitude on the museum’s Facebook page.
As President of the Société Vieille Maison and on behalf of the entire Board of Directors I would like to send my sincerest thanks to all the people from all over the world who took the time, either daily or at least once, to vote for La Vieille Maison in the National Trust Fund of Canada #NextGreatSave contest.
Over the past 34 days I have been very moved by the incredible support that La Société Vieille Maison has received! If I take the words of Vickie Deveau’s song “What would Evangeline believe? If Evangeline would see the strength behind the hearts of all our people (…) well I’m pretty sure she’d be very proud of us!”
While waiting for the verifications of the votes anticipated to be announced by tomorrow at 7pm, I thank you once again and invite you to continue to follow the activities of La Société Vieille Maison.