In 1966, historian Robert Morgan and chemist Don Arseneau were teaching at Xavier Junior College (now Cape Breton University) and wanted a student project for Canada’s Centennial celebration. A few blocks away was the empty and deteriorating St. Patrick’s Church. This stone building in the Pioneer Gothic style is the oldest still-standing Catholic church in Cape Breton. It had served the early Catholics of the area until the building of Sacred Heart, housed the Lebanese Maronite congregation and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, but had been deemed a hazard and was slated for demolition. Dr. Morgan’s history students, impelled by the sad and then-recent razing by fire of Moxham Castle, took it on as a summer project and used shovels and wheelbarrows to clean out crumbled plaster and the debris of years. Experts from the community advised on the restoration and the architecture, and historians Sister Margaret Beaton, Katharine MacLennan, and Hilda Day provided historical context. Old Sydney Society was formed to take ownership of the property, with Don Arseneau, Sister Margaret Beaton, Hilda Day, Katharine McLennan, Robert Morgan, and Sander Muggah as the first Board of Directors.
The Society went on to purchase and restore Cossit House and turn it into a museum, erect monuments in the North End, take ownership of Jost House, help preserve the former Lyceum Theatre, work with the municipality to declare the North End a heritage district, save the Liscomb House, and to repurpose the former Bank of Montreal building, now the centre of operations for the Old Sydney Society. Today, the Society is a leading force in engaging the entire community in the appreciation of Sydney’s heritage.