Photo by Jake Boudrot
Historic Our Lady of Assomption Church in Arichat could close by 2018 without extensive repairs.

ARICHAT: The chair of a community-based committee overseeing the operations of Isle Madame’s largest house of worship is confident that repairs to Our Lady of Assomption Catholic Church can be carried out within the timeline set out by the Diocese of Antigonish.

Friends of Notre Dame chair Barbara MacNeil made the comments last week when questioned about the progress of several repairs recommended in a 2014 engineering report conducted by A.H. Roy and Associates and requested by the diocese’s main insurers earlier this year. According to Stella Maris Pastoral Unit (SMPU) priest Father Doug MacDonald, if several upgrades and an action plan for further repairs are not completed by December 31, the 180-year-old proto-cathedral could shut its doors in early 2018.

Addressing the issue Thursday morning, MacNeil suggested that her committee is confident that it can work within this deadline and added that several of the requested repairs have already been carried out, including the majority of a clean-up to the church’s boiler room and the addressing of issues with the church’s ventilation system.

“It’s not as dire as we thought it was in the beginning – it’s certainly manageable,” MacNeil told The Reporter.

She added that a local contractor has already agreed to waive his usual fees to dig a trench known as a French drain to divert storm water accumulation from Highway 206 in the crawl space located beneath the church. This effort is expected to begin in the coming days as dry spring weather settles into Richmond County.

File photo This organ, purchased from Philadelphia in the mid-1800s is one of the many priceless historic artifacts that can be found within the historic church.

As well, MacNeil reported that two quick-release mechanisms will be placed on the church’s doors to allow for immediate exits in the event of a fire, and modifications will be carried out to the building’s upstairs area.

“We’re going to fix the railing upstairs – we’re going to make an addition to it, so it will be up to code. Right now, it’s too short – it’s only four feet,” MacNeil added.

“Upstairs, on the balcony, outside of the stained-glass windows, we have to put up a plexi-glass area. It’s a little alcove, and people could actually walk in there and fall through the windows, so we have to put plexi-glass up so people won’t walk in there [and fall].”

File photo The historic church also contains a chalice that was transported from France to the colony of Acadia in the early 1600s.

While she confirmed that fundraising efforts are now under way to address such long-term costs as upgrades to the church’s heating system, MacNeil insisted that the Friends of Notre Dame have more time to carry out these repairs than the general public might recognize.

“The engineering report at the time said it was six-to-ten years [to address the heating system], so we’re down to five-to-six years or something like that,” MacNeil reported.

“Basically, we’ll repair it as needed, but it’s not a major concern right now…As long as we do the major repairs, like the water in the basement and the fire safety issues and the [boiler room] fire-retardant issues, as long as we show that we’re making progress, as long as we show due diligence and it’s safe on December 31, it can remain open, as long as the repairs are done. And it will be done, and it will be safe.”

Photo by Jake Boudrot
Historic Notre Dame de l’Assomption Church in Arichat contains many valuable pieces of artwork, statues and priceless historic artifacts.