By Andrew Macdonald

Here’s a story on how Steve Smith Is Successfully Tapping a Trend

Fresh from last year’s sale of his province-wide home building chain Central Home Improvement to Irving-owned Kent, Steve Smith has a new business line taking advantage of a major demographic aging trend in Atlantic Canada.

Steve Smith owns Amherst and Port Elgin based Atlantic Windows, and is building seniors’ units in Antigonish

The Antigonish businessman, who founded Central 40 years ago in a garage attached to his dad’s house, and went on to annually post sales in the $100 million range, is now building seniors’ accommodations in his native town.

Smith, 64, engaged Lindsay Construction of Burnside, co-owned by civil engineer Cory Bell, to erect a 100-unit seniors’ complex near Antigonish at the Mount Cameron subdivision.

The new complex is handy to a massive nursing home nearing completion by Jason Shannon’s Shannex for the Sisters of St. Martha at Bethany

Antigonish is also the home of the MacLeod Group. Proprietor Brian MacLeod runs seven provincial nursing homes, but, oddly, does not have any seniors complexes in the town. He was upset when the Sisters of St. Martha’s did not ask him to bid on the Bethany project.

At the time, there was talk in Antigonish — where speculation and gossip are a major industry — that Shannex owner Joe Shannon was a Catholic and MacLeod a Protestant.

At the time, the mother superior at Bethany told me religion had no part in Shannon winning the seniors’ project, but that didn’t stop the chattering class from chatting about Shannon’s religion and his project win.

As for Smith, the son of a school educator, he recently talked to The Macdonald Notebook about a multi-year plan to develop a total of 400 seniors’ units in the university town.

Smith has also owned since 1982, a regional window and door manufacturer in Amherst, and the tiny New Brunswick village of Port Elgin, a community best known for being on the route to the 20-year-old Confederation Bridge.

That New Brunswick company is called Atlantic Windows, and, as I reported a few weeks ago in The Macdonald Notebook, last fall it successfully invaded into retailing in Upper Canada.

Smith is a generous philanthropist on the Nova Scotia scene.

In recent years, Smith gave $1 million to the Coady Institute at St. F.X., and the other year he and his wife Cathy cut a $1 million cheque for a cancer home in the Halifax south end, which is named after the Sobey family.

Last year, the Smith family also donated $1 million to the current fundraising effort he chairs for St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Foundation.

“We’ve raised $15 million so far and the target over the next 10 years is $20 million,” Smith says of the hospital fundraiser.

Smith — a McDonalds restaurant coffee fan — says there are almost nine years left in the campaign, “but so far people have been very generous. We now expect to raise the total endowment goal by the next five years, although we have a decade-long campaign target,” he tells The Macdonald Notebook.

The regional hospital serves the four counties in the Strait region, and was built in 1989. See note at bottom of this news article).

As for Smith’s move into creating housing accommodations for assisted living needs of senior citizens, he says there is a tsunami underway of the number of seniors in modern society.

“Health care is becoming the absolute priority in our society in Nova Scotia. We hear every day in the news that there is a health crisis here or there, or that we lost a doctor, and we have long lineups to see a family physician,” Smith tells The Macdonald Notebook.

His new seniors complex in Antigonish will offer meals to its residents, a medical clinic, health spa, and other assisted care amenities.

The facility opens in May, and he is optimistic of his occupancy levels.

“Typically, a building like this would see a two or three year fill-up, but we expect to be 40 or 50 per cent full in the first couple of months of it opening,” Smith says.

“We already have people signed up and we have just started our marketing campaign.

“It’s an absolutely stunning building and one of a kind in Nova Scotia. It will be an exceptional property that will thrill the residents.

“We will make three gourmet meals a day. We call it support of living; you get all your meals and amenities as you would have in your house. We will have a full social calendar and have a recreational director on staff.”

Monthly cost for residents for the apartment units, with a large dining room and theatre, as well as a large lounge and bar, two separate kitchens, and hair salon, will start at $1,800 for the 101 units in the complex.

“We definitely will build more of these complexes in Antigonish.

Will he take his seniors’ company across the province?

“We haven’t made that decision yet,” he replied, adding he’d like to build 400 units in Antigonish as the priority goal.

NOTE: Last spring, The Macdonald Notebook issued the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Foundation campaign a $500 cheque out of my robust subscription revenue. Another favourite charity for The Notebook is giving to L’Arche House, a home for adults with learning disabilities in Wolfville, Halifax north end, Antigonish, and quaint Orangedale.

Last week the Notebook also gave $200 towards an organizer’s goal to raise $10,000 for a proper funeral for 62-year-old homeless Haligonian, Wray Hart, a prominent two decade panhandler on Spring Garden Road, who once told me the CIA was after him.

Wray Hart – photo by Chronicle Herald’s Tim Krochak

Obviously persecuted by his own mind, and living life with a mental health untreated illness, and leading a hardscrabble life, he made a serious industry of collecting empty beer bottles and cans all over south end Halifax. He always had a smile, toothless as it was, on his weathered leather like and beaten face.

He was killed when struck by a car at 3 a.m. on a sidewalk on Queen Street, near the very park bench he would sleep on during the depths of winter or sultry summer nights.