The Khyber Survives a Brush With Municipality

A photo o the Khyber Centre For the Arts from

A photo of the Khyber Centre For the Arts from

On Tuesday, September 9th, 2014, the Halifax Municipal Council passed a motion by Waye Mason to take The Khyber off the “surplus status” death-list. After weeks of rallying and campaigning for support, it seems the people’s voices and hard work spirited a huge win for the Khyber Arts Society (KAS).

After an inspection of the property the building was quoted with an exorbitant renovation price-tag of approximately four-million dollars and the HRM were ready to sell the building for profit rather than front the bill.

But relief came on Tuesday when, in a crucial change of heart, the city council sided with the Khyber — recognizing the buildings’  historical and cultural significance to Halifax and Nova Scotian culture, saving it for now.

“I would like to thank Mayor Savage, Waye Mason, Jennifer Watts and the rest of the Councillors, for recognizing the value of the Khyber as a public, independently run arts space, as a historically significant meeting place in the LBGTQ community, as a downtown heritage building, and a significant cultural asset in Halifax’s part of the broader Canadian identity.” says Andrew McClaren, co-chair of the KAS, in a statement on the Khyber Centre for the Arts Facebook page.

The motion passed defers the final decision on the status of the building until Spring of 2015 – so, while it was a massive victory for the arts community, a possible Judgement Day could still loom in the future.

When you consider that the building has been standing on Barrington Street for one-hundred and twenty-five years — you needn’t be a critical-thinker to comprehend the historical significance of the structure.

Here’s how the The Khyber recount the beginning: “It was originally erected as the Church of England Institute Building in 1888, commissioned by Bishop Hibbert Binney and designed by architect Henry Busch in an eclectic Victorian style with strong Gothic Revival influences. Other buildings designed by Busch in Halifax include the Halifax Academy (NSCAD Academy Building) and the Halifax Public Gardens Bandstand. Originally the building hosted a library, gym, women’s auxiliary, billiards hall, smoking room, and lecture hall. All kept tidy by a custodian housed in the top floor of the building. The Church of England Institute Building closed its doors in the 1940’s after being a well-known hostel for many Naval Officers serving in WWII. The Khyber Arts Society (anchor tenants of the Khyber building), grew out of various progressive groups and organizations that began to use the then-neglected building in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and into the 90’s. Such groups included a refugee clinic, youth clinic, health food store, pottery studio, the city’s first gay social hub (the Turret Club, Gay Alliance for Equality), the Heritage Trust, Atlantic Film Co-op, Wormwood Cinema, and the Khyber Café. The building was unofficially renamed the Khyber Building by the public in the 1970’s when the Khyber Cafe opened on the ground floor.”

In 1995, the structure fell into the hands of the Khyber Arts Society and has since grown into an important and influential venue for the arts community to grow and thrive. Halifax is one of the most influential art-hubs east of Montreal and The Khyber has continued to play a big hand in that community to this day.

Another blurb on their website explains: “The Khyber Board of Directors is made up of professional artists and other professionals from the community. The Khyber Centre for the Arts continues to be the heart of Halifax’s artistic cultural scene and a place for artists and non-artists to meet, explore career potentials, and to share with the larger community. The Khyber helps keep our creative people busy in the community.”

In the last twenty-years The Khyber has been a resource and accessible avenue for all of Halifax’s artists while doubling as a supportive, encouraging and respectful environment for anyone who wants to get involved. The venue has been monumental for so many people, and it’s value can’t be quantified by a lofty dollar-figure.

So as another battle is won and another begins, the Khyber Arts Society will surely be busy at work trying to find a solution for the centre before spring of 2015. But for now, the Khyber Centre for the Arts will continue to stand tall in all it’s pride and glory.

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