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Renowned architect to create museum around historic St. Stephen basketball court

CBC - October 28, 2023

The 130-year-old court to be part of Canadian National Basketball Experience Museum

By Isabelle Leger

Design rendering of a building
Timothy Mansfield, of the Canadian National Basketball Experience Museum project, said the original building that houses the court will be renovated and accompanied by an addition, as shown in this model.

What some believe to be world’s oldest basketball court will get a long-awaited facelift with the help of an architectural firm renowned for its work designing sports heritage museums.

CambridgeSeven, based in Massachusetts, is leading the project that will see the 130-year-old basketball court on St. Stephen’s King Street turned into the Canadian National Basketball Experience Museum.

The firm recently completed a multimillion-dollar restoration project of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., which tells the story, through interactive exhibits, of Canadian James Naismith and how he came to invent the game of basketball.

The firm also led the development of the Canada Sports Hall of Fame.

Timothy Mansfield with CambridgeSeven is the principal on the project and said the firm couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work with the historic property.

A light wood floor is show in a large empty room with green walls.
The original gym floor on the court was discovered underneath a carpet. The carpet was removed during cleanup after a small fire in the building. (Canada First Basketball)

“They reached out and introduced us to the whole world of this oldest basketball court,” said Mansfield. “Because we’re sports fans, we were very fascinated by the idea of this building housing the place where it began.”

The building where the court was discovered housed a YMCA in the late 19th century, and basketball was introduced to the town in 1893.

The building has been home to numerous businesses over the years, and it wasn’t until a carpet on the upper floor was removed after a fire 13 years ago that the old gymnasium floor was revealed.

Mansfield said the CambridgeSeven team held a workshop at the court before completing the design renderings.

“Certainly, it’s gone through many iterations over the years, but the bones of the building are there … it was really great and very exciting,” he said.

Mansfield said the original building housing the court will undergo renovations and an addition will be added.

It will be designed to house memorabilia but also feature interactive exhibits for all ages.

Design rendering
Mansfield said his team at CambridgeSeven couldn’t pass up the chance to work on what some believe to be the world’s oldest basketball court. (Submitted by Tom Liston)

“We’re planning to have lots of fun, leveraging technology that we’re using in many of our sports museums for interactive,” said Mansfield.

Tom Liston, a board member for the World’s Oldest Basketball Court Inc. and a UNB alumnus, said the museum will feature a rotating selection of borrowed memorabilia from famous basketball players, including items from the Canada Sports Hall of Fame that aren’t currently visible to the public.

Picture of man smiling
Tom Liston, a board member with the World’s Oldest Basketball Court Inc., said he hopes to see a rotation collection of borrowed memorabilia featured in the museum when it opens. (Submitted by Tom Liston)

“They have inducted people into the hall of fame but there’s no place where you can see the plaques and see the memorabilia … They have a lot of it, but they have it stored,” said Liston.

He said he would also like to see a rotation of interactive exhibits, so that museum goers are encouraged to return.

Liston said he’s excited for people to get the chance to experience this court first-hand.

“You can almost hear the sound of the basketball and the sneakers on the floor, it’s a really great experience,” said Liston.

He said the goal is to make the space a catalyst for tournaments and to draw a wide range of tourists to the province.

Liston said the court has already been graced by former NBA players and members of Basketball Canada.

A red brick building sits on a street. A grey car is parked in front.
A photo of the building on King Street in St. Stephen. The total cost of the project is not confirmed. (Submitted by Canada First Basketball)

He said the World’s Oldest Basketball Court Inc. has spent the last few years raising funds, which allowed it to buy the building that houses the court.

Liston said funding for this project is expected to come from both the provincial and federal governments, along with charitable donations. When asked about the total cost of the project, Liston declined to give a figure, saying the numbers are not yet confirmed.

In 2022, a price tag of $10 million was projected, and fundraising had already begun.

Mansfield said the timeline of this project is dependent on when funding is received, but says the design process usually takes eight to 12 months and construction would take about 18 months to complete.

Tyler Slipp, executive director of Basketball New Brunswick, said the involvement of CambridgeSeven “lends massive legitimacy to the entire operation.”

Slipp said he hopes there will be a partnership between Basketball New Brunswick and this museum, where the organization can host events that draw basketball lovers from around the province to St. Stephen.

“This has the potential to raise the profile of the sport in this province, so we’re always interested in partnering on big ideas like this,” said Slipp.

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