Story & Photo by Ted Amsden
It has been a long battle for — Candace and Mitchell Cox — owners of the Purdy Mill building in Castleton. Since 2011 they have had a dream of turning the faded grey grist mill into a community centre of music and magical theatrical moments.
The battle has been costly and all uphill, but now it looks like the property concerns and municipal confusion with which they have struggled will soon be behind them.
It has taken a lot of personal cash and hours, days and weeks of worry and then even more cash to get to this point.
Lest you need encouragement to get your feet tapping, your knees bopping, overall get yourself into in a dance-the-night-down kind of mood, there was a sold-out dance party at the Castleton town hall in January that was bang-up event.
“A Sweetheart Ceilidh”: featuring live music by the Clan Hannigan is likely to be sold out. People will probably be turned away at the door like they were the last event. So…. you have some time. Get your tickets today.
A mere $25 will get you in the door. Warning: there will be delicious food, spontaneous singing and dancing you will not be able to resist.
Should you not know a thing about the mill and the good people who have joined together to bring a mood of fun and creative possibility to sleepy Castleton, it is worth recounting a bit of the back story.
The following is short summation of an interview with Candace in January.
The Purdy Mill was a significant grain milling business into the late 1940’s, thereafter it was of lesser concern. Fast forward to 2011, Candace and Mitchell Cox — the former, a certified Alexander Technique Instructor, the latter, professional musician — bought the home next to the mill which included the building. A dream of resurrecting the mill and making it a focus for the arts was paramount in their decision to buy the property.
“We want most of our events to be mainly intimate.That is the type of work we enjoy. Folk clubs and store-front small theatre (groups struggling with high operational costs in the GTA) could come out here and have the space for free to work up their show and do their rehearsals. We have musicians right on site. And then we would ask them instead of paying with money that they would give us a show or two.”
“Our big over arching goal is to be a safe, affordable place for people to invent and create theatre and music, dance, performing arts.”
While it is easy to declare a dream, getting it to happen can be perilous. The trek to this point has been arduous.
Jokingly Candace says, “We need to sell our children. We are skating on the edge of bankruptcy.”
The fact is for three years the couple have poured tens of thousands of dollars into the project while they have wrestled with on-going property issues. As these issues are before the court, lengthy discussion in the press has not occurred. Suffice it to say, it is a kind of tale in which sheer doggedness and determination to realize a dream have met serious obstacles.
“We do want the public to know the full story,” she says.
Those of us who like a good story are going to have to wait. Perhaps, there will be a play one day staged upon the very premises where the controversy has arisen.
As the couple has drained their resources, as they are not getting any younger and want to move the project forward, they have decided to incorporate the project into a not-for-profit and turn the direction of the project over to a board.
“We spent all our money on the lawsuit. We need help getting the building going.”
Thus the Piper Creek Mills Arts and Heritage Centre Board was created in November of last year to manage the Centre. Members include: Samantha Cameron, Candace Cox, Mitchell Cox, Roger Doidge,Steafan Hannigan, Ian Hartford,Cindy Matthews,Graham Norcutt and Deborah Smith.
“We are giving the building to the Board on a long-term lease. It is no longer about us personally, it is about the Not-for-profit Mill at Piper Creek Arts and Heritage Centre and community programming. We also intend to keep a strong museum element to the building, and hope to have short films recounting the stories which have shaped the community.”
“We have hired a great architect – on a promise – Phil Goldsmith. He is brilliant.”
“We are going to stage it and go through it project by project. This summer we hope to finish the foundation work.”
“(The building) is solid now. Mostly it just needs to be emptied out and then we want to secure the shell. Redo the siding and replace all the windows. Do it as a heritage building.”
“This next stage will cost around $35, 000 to $50,000.”
With “a stellar board of nine people”, the decision was made, “We are going to start fund raising.”
Which leads to the most important part of this article: what you can do to help out, dear Reader of Northumberland News Network.
Well, you can simply go for the fun. You can attend the “Sweetheart Ceildidh” Friday February 10 at 7 pm. Or schedule to attend the Maria Dunn Concert and a St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations at Castleton Town Hall. Or don your best duds and attend a black-tie fundraiser/auction tentatively scheduled to happen at Victoria Hall in Cobourg on April 29.
Fun is afoot whenever the Piper Creek Mills Arts and Heritage Centre holds an event. So be advised. Get your tickets. Don’t delay. There is no standing room. Only dancing is allowed.
Here is what Candace said about the January event.
“It was like an old Irish kitchen party. Like wedding where you got a band and you can come and dance … there was a lot of singing. There was a lot of dancing. It was step dancing. With instruction. Ages there were 16 to 90. A really great mixed crowd. Really about community. Which is what we are about.”
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