A stately, historical landmark in Cobalt is getting a facelift and a new purpose.
The 103-year-old former Royal Exchange Building, which was later known as the Fraser Hotel, is being transformed into apartments and will be the new home of the Bunker Military Museum.
“We are getting significant interest in the apartments,” said Steph Palmateer, CAO and clerk-treasurer for the town.
Through a partnership with the Cochrane-Temiskaming Native Housing Authority, 23 apartments will be ready for occupancy in early April. Eight studio units with one bedroom have been set aside for Cobalt at market-price rent. They include two larger units fronting on Silver Street and overlooking the 'square,' complete with large, long windows. The remaining 15 apartments are available to those who qualify for affordable housing.
“We kept the original size of the windows so there is a great deal of natural light in all the apartments,” Palmateer said.
The town acquired the vacant building four years ago through a foundation. The total cost of the project is between $2.5 and $3 million.
Although the entire building was gutted, its concrete structure is sound, including the stairs to the third floor.
“It's the original concrete,” he said. “Everyone was amazed that it was more than 100 years old so the building is very, very solid.”
It is also one of the most significant historical buildings in Northern Ontario.
“It started as the Royal Exchange,” said Cobalt Mayor Tina Sartoretto. “If you can imagine, a stock exchange in Cobalt, so it has quite the history of its own.”
The building was also originally designed to house an elevator but one was never installed. With some modifications, the first one will be functional in more than 100 years.
The museum will relocate from its current home at the former train station to the street level of the Fraser building. Its new space will include a resource library and a classroom.
“The new location for the Bunker Military Museum is ideal since it will be one of the most significant tourist attractions in Northern Ontario,” Sartoretto said. “The collection is wonderful and now it will be properly displayed.”
The train station will be available to house a suitable commercial enterprise.
“The railway station is an important historical structure as well,” the mayor said. “We are actively looking for someone interested in establishing there and it is perfect for any number of ventures. It is right in town and has good potential.”
At the street level of the Fraser building, a communal area is available for tenants, including a kitchen. Remaining vacant space could be used as an incubator mall, restaurant, or house a medical health team.
“The main floor has great potential and we are looking at some possibilities. Part of the challenge is to get financing to prepare the floor for tenants but it can be made to suit them,” Sartoretto said.
The original doors at the street level remain but must be replaced due to building code requirements. The first level also has the original marble flooring but it too must be replaced due to its current condition. A new finish will be applied to the exterior.
The town hasn't had any new housing complexes since a seniors' building was constructed about 25 to 30 years ago.
“It provides a beacon of hope for the future,” the mayor said. “It means we can have a few more people move into town and become citizens. That's always a good thing.”