Michael Prue

Doll museum makes $20,000 donation towards Belle Vue restoration



By Ron Giofu


The Shaanti International Museum of Costumes and Dolls has stepped forward to help the Belle Vue Conservancy.

The doll museum, which is currently operating out of the Malden Community & Cultural Centre located at 7860 County Road 20, officially presented a cheque for $20,000 to the conservancy last Thursday morning on Belle Vue’s front porch.

The donation is the first under the conservancy’s sponsorship program and the $20,000 will result in a window being named for the Shaanti International Museum of Costumes and Dolls.

Michael Prue, treasurer of the Belle Vue Conservancy, said the donation from the doll museum has been the largest to date and hopes it inspires other individuals and companies to step forward.

“This property can be restored to the way it was,” said Prue. “It won’t take very long with donations like this.”

The Palladian-style architecture is rare in Canada, with Prue citing a Nova Scotia government building as the only other example.

The Shaantii International Museum of Costumes and Dolls made a $20,000 donation to the Belle Vue Conservancy last Thursday and will get naming rights to a window. From left: Conservancy treasurer Michael Prue, Conservancy president Shirley Curson-Prue, museum secretary/treasurer Raj Varma, museum board member Nancy Morand, museum vice president Ivan Robich and Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale.

The Shaantii International Museum of Costumes and Dolls made a $20,000 donation to the Belle Vue Conservancy last Thursday and will get naming rights to a window. From left: Conservancy treasurer Michael Prue, Conservancy president Shirley Curson-Prue, museum secretary/treasurer Raj Varma, museum board member Nancy Morand, museum vice president Ivan Robich and Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale.

“I am looking forward to the day (Belle Vue) is open to the public and we can say with extreme pride that we are from Amherstburg and we’ve been able to do this,” he said.

“We’re making strides. We’re just not making huge strides yet,” said Shirley Curson-Prue, the president of the conservancy.

Other fundraisers are in the works, Curson-Prue noted, and said artist Peter Rindlisbacher is working on the painting that will hang in the Belle Vue and be reproduced for public sale. Rindlisbacher’s involvement was announced last year.

More donations are in the works, she added, but can’t be announced just yet.

The doll museum raised its money largely through bingos and Raj Varma, secretary/treasurer with the museum, indicated they would like to see Belle Vue as a “destination point in Amherstburg.”

Their own museum contains rare dolls and costumes with Varma stating “the museum is very unique in North America.” The collection features dolls from all over the globe with board vice president Ivan Robich adding the collection is valued at $500,000.

“A lot of the dolls have come from private collections,” said Robich.

The Shaanti International Museum of Costumes and Dolls came to Amherstburg with the assistance of the town’s tourism department after several stops in Windsor. Robich believes it was a “Godsend” they were able to located at the Malden Community & Cultural Centre, which is also known as “the Little White Church.”

Nancy Morand, a director with the museum’s board, added her belief that the relationship has been “mutually beneficial” to the town and the museum. It is open Saturdays from 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. during the Amherstburg Farmers Market season, which starts this Saturday. The museum is also open for private tours by calling 519-839-4237.

The doll museum could have some sort of presence at Belle Vue, through an exhibit or a display, but the future use of the property still appears to be focused on a conference centre type facility. Public consultation is yet to come with future uses to be discussed during those talks.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale thanked the doll museum for its donation.

“It’s donations like these that bring us closer to opening Belle Vue,” said DiPasquale. “We hope this encourages others to make donations so we can open these doors as soon as possible.”

Belle Vue group re-shaped, looking for public input


By Ron Giofu

Now that the town is proceeding with the purchase of the historic Belle Vue property, the group that lobbied for the purchase is now shifting gears as well.

The group formerly known as the Friends of Belle Vue and the Belle Vue Cultural Foundation is now known simply as the “Belle Vue Conservatory” with the group planning an evening meeting for Oct. 18 at the Libro Centre to gather public input and possibly some new members as well.

The Belle Vue Conservatory, led by new president Shirley Curson-Prue, has been formed to work with the town, find out what people want to see at the site and help fundraise for the renovations.


The new executive consists of not only Curson-Prue, but also vice president Carolyn Davies, secretary Jennie Lajoie and treasurer Michael Prue. Curson-Prue states she has “extensive Project Management experience” and is an active member of the Amherstburg Heritage Committee as well as the Recreation and Culture Committee. Davies is the president of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce and a former councillor in Amherstburg and former chair of Amherstburg Community Services (ACS).

Lajoie has championed historical preservation in town as a member of the Provincial Marine, as well as several other groups. Prue, who spoke at the Sept. 26 meeting in favour of the town purchasing Belle Vue, served at Queen’s Park as NDP finance critic, was formerly mayor of East York in Toronto and is currently a member of the Amherstburg Committee of Adjustment.

Curson-Prue said the group is grateful towards the work of its predecessor boards with the Friends of Belle Vue and Belle Vue Cultural Foundation. She said those groups did a lot of work and should be recognized.


While she envisions the new group will be a partner with town council, Curson-Prue said Belle Vue Preservation will not directly report to them. She said there will be no secrets and that progress will be shared, but Belle Vue Conservatory is its own entity.

“It’s separate and independent,” said Curson-Prue, of the new group. “We are citizens for the preservation of Belle Vue.”

Curson-Prue added: “The new group is excited to be able to liaise with the town to help restore the Belle Vue. There is a wonderful video prepared by the town showing some proposed ideas for the property once restored; it may be viewed on the town’s website and should assure the public that this will indeed be a jewel in the crown of Amherstburg.”

That video is also available through the town of Amherstburg’s YouTube channel.

Though the video shows the town’s vision of a restored building, greenhouses, a conservatory, gardens and other amenities, the Oct. 18 meeting will seek out other ideas as well. Prue said the meeting will allow people to make suggestions “and tell us what they want to do.

“The new (group) is to raise funds, raise awareness and help determine the actual usage of the site,” said Prue.

Curson-Prue added they will be asking people to help as “there are a lot of different things that are happening.” She also referred to the upcoming session as “a brainstorming meeting.

“We’re into a new phase,” Curson-Prue continued. “The town has made a decision. It is now municipal property. It’s getting the suggestions and ideas from the public and working out a way to make it happen.”

Curson-Prue said that prior to the town’s decision to proceed with the purchase, “we were on the verge of losing one of the last examples of Georgian architecture in Ontario. Located at 525 Dalhousie, this elegant home on eight acres was on the Heritage Canada Foundation’s Top Ten Endangered Places list.”

Belle Vue was built in 1816–1818 and lived in by owners Robert Reynolds and his sister, Catherine Reynolds, until their deaths. Belle Vue then was utilized as a private residence, a hospital and a Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Since 2001, the 200-year-old building has sat empty and Curson-Prue stated “it is only because of the outstanding quality of the building that it remains possible to bring Belle Vue House back from the brink of ruin.”

Curson-Prue also credited town administration for helping to facilitate the purchase.


“Thanks to an inspired decision based on meticulous feasibility research by CAO John Miceli, this national and local historical treasure will now be protected and preserved for generations to come,” she said. “Terms of the purchase made the acquisition of Belle Vue possible – too good a deal to pass up, many who know the details would say – and residents may be assured that the people forming the new Belle Vue Preservation group will be working closely with the citizens of Amherstburg to ensure the building will be used appropriately.”

The town agreed to purchase the site for $1.1 million and a $200,000 donation receipt with the town paying $100,000 down and $200,000 per year over the next five years on an interest-free mortgage. The town states it does not expect to incur more debt with the acquisition of the 8.6-acre property.

Curson-Prue said the group expects to obtain a painting from artist Peter Rindlisbacher and will look at ways to possibly use that, indicating they may auction it off, sell reproductions or find a way to use the painting in a different fashion. Prue added they are working with the WSO to have a concert next March as a way to raise funds.

For those who have ideas for restoring the Belle Vue or on how the Belle Vue could best be utilized, or for those who are willing to donate skills and labour to this effort, please contact Curson-Prue at 519-736-6947 or by e-mail at info@bellevueconservancy.com.

The group’s website is www.bellevueconservancy.com.

Donations can be mailed to the group at 307 Crystal Bay Dr., Amherstburg, ON, N9V 4A6.

The Oct. 18 meeting at the Libro Centre is scheduled to run from 6-8 p.m.