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This article first appeared in the June 13, 2018 issue of the The Low Down to Hull and Back News.External Link Reprinted with permission. Search complete list of Low Down Articles.

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From derelict and abandoned to intricate art

By Ben Bulmer

Chelsea's old town hall is set to have a new lease on life, changing from a derelict shack into intricate works of art.

West Hull's former town hall
Above and bottom: West Hull's former town hall is set to be demolished and turned into art and furniture by artisan Gilles Desmarais, then later made available for the public to purchase. Ben Bulmer photos.

The project is a joint venture between Chelsea Creek owners Multivesco, the Municipality of Chelsea, and artisan Gilles Desmarais. Currently, the building sits abandoned and covered with graffiti next to an old barn once owned by the Hendrick family located at the Chelsea Creek site next to Hwy 5.

Desmarais plans to dismantle the structure and reclaim its components. "I think it's fun working with wood that was used for one purpose 150 years ago and giving it a second life," Desmarais told the Low Down. The Gatineau-based artisan has been working with reclaimed wood since 2001. "It was because I didn't have any money I was dismantling these barns," said Desmarais. He then realized people actually liked the rustic look and feel, and he turned what had been a cost-saving exercise into his specialty. His portfolio now includes pieces for Chelsea's Biscotti & Cie and Nordik Spa-Nature.

West Hull's former town hall
A piece of Desmarais' art. Photo courtesy Gilles Desmarais.

The West Hull Township Hall was originally located in Old Chelsea village when it was built in 1876. It closed down when the municipality moved its offices to the site now occupied by Bougie Doozy Candle in 1956. It's thought the building was then moved to its current site some time in the 1980s.

West Hull's former town hall

Desmarais said he will create an eight by 12-foot map of Old Chelsea with the wood, but stresses the map will have an "artistic flare" to it and will be more of an artistic interpretation than a replica birds-eye view of the village. The work will then be displayed at the municipal offices. In addition to the map, Desmarais will produce a piece of work from the Hendrick barn and donate it to the Hendrick family. Once this is completed, the artisan will offer individual works of art and furniture made from the wood to members of the public.

In an effort to showcase the history of the site, the artist will fabricate a monument on the foundations of the old barn, where a new park is scheduled to be created. Using a process that involves pouring melted pewter and aluminum over the barn wood, Desmarais said he will recreate a "thumbprint" of a corner of the barn stretching 10 feet high. The metal will replicate the boards that stood for 150 years, said Desmarais, adding the sculpture should last another 200 years.

If all goes to plan, Desmarais said the town hall and barn will be demolished within a few weeks, with the art ready to be installed at Chelsea's municipal offices by September. Those wishing to purchase something themselves can go to: www.gillesdesmarais.ca