Volunteers on Isle Madame have been busy carrying out repairs to three church buildings.
In October, HBJ Contractors removed the steeple, cross and bell from St. Joseph’s Church in Petit de Grat.
Project lead Robert Fougere said the need for repairs was identified in the early 2000s, and after unsuccessful attempts to address leaks, parishioners decided during a public meeting in 2015 to remove the steeple.
Not only would this move remedy the problem, according to contractors Fougere spoke with, but in a small community with many people on fixed incomes, he said maintaining a steeple is not financially viable.
Fougere said a crane was rented for two days to remove the cross, then the dome was moved in one piece, next the four sides of the steeple were taken down one at a time. The next morning, the bell came down.
Other than a $5,000 donation from St. Joseph’s Credit Union, Fougere said St. Joseph’s Church was promised approximately $11,000 from Isle Madame’s municipal councillors prior to the 2016 municipal election.
The next phase of the project involves replacing the section of the interior around the steeple by doing painting and putting up trim. There are also plans to expand the entrance area by removing pews at the rear.
Also last month, Odilon Boudreau, with the Friends of Our Lady of Assomption, said volunteers spent three days welding new headers on the church’s furnace. He explained this work entailed approximately 72 welds on various parts of the pipes which lead from the top of the furnace. He estimated work of this type would cost in the vicinity of $5,000 to $6,000.
Before undertaking this work, Boudreau said the ventilation was checked throughout the historic church, and contrary to an engineer’s report which recommended removing all pipes, it was determined the pipes were in good condition.
Boudreau said humidity problems previously cited by the engineer were also identified and addressed.
Aside from the tireless work of volunteer welders Gerry Samson and Jacques Martell, Boudreau pointed out the project received support from AFL Tanks which provided a portable welding machine, a package of welding rods, and even filled a gas tank for the portable welder. HBJ Contractors then brought the portable welder to the church and Andre Boudreau was instrumental in gathering up the construction material needed for the job.
Armed with encouraging support from the community, including a $25,000 individual donation, Boudreau is confident the group can attain their fundraising goals and do the work needed to the structure and property. Despite this help, the Friends still have to pay for some project costs and their fundraising efforts are ongoing.
Boudreau said there are plans to repair a corner of the foundation and do some ditching around the church. The Friends are organizing upgrades to the front steps, entertaining placing fibre glass caps over the steeples, considering siding the church exterior, and want to improve the lighting in the church. There are plans to possibly build a walkway to the nearby canons and provide self-guided tours through the church and cemetery.
Just down the street, the Friends of St. John’s Arichat Society purchased the 122-year-old former church this past summer after it was closed in 2014 by the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and PEI.
Society director Mitch David explained that after the church was officially turned over, the group held a number of meetings and determined that the basement needed to be repaired and fully cleaned of mould as a result of being sealed-off for years.
Earlier this month, Mill Creek Environmental Services from Sydney gutted the basement and sprayed the entire area with an environmentally-friendly, anti-microbial, mould-resistant product.
The society is getting estimates for a new roof, and has plans to paint, clean the upstairs and fix the stained-glass windows, according to David.
In addition to repairs, David said fundraising was another priority identified by the society and sources of funding, like the Municipality of the County of Richmond and the Province of Nova Scotia, were also identified.
As part of this effort, David said the society is looking at hosting more events like concerts, fundraisers, tours, and meetings, in the short-term. Over the long-term, David said the society is considering renting the building for weddings, reunions, gatherings, bake sales, and cultural events.
As an example, on September 9 and 10, the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia’s Places of Worship Committee coordinated a “Doors Open” event which included St. John’s in Arichat. According to David, the church hosted approximately 75 people during the weekend, and responses were very positive, with some visitors even joining the society.
Just this past weekend, the Friends hosted a well-attended Old Fashioned Christmas during which the church was decorated and its bells rang throughout the weekend.
These are examples of what can be accomplished when communities organize, plan, and most importantly, put these plans into action. These are also examples of how private businesses and individuals have a significant role to play in helping their communities.
Rather than allow their church buildings to deteriorate, volunteers decided to do something. And rather than ignore the need, local firms and residents stepped up in a big way.
These groups didn’t accept the unfounded claims from their diocesan owners that the buildings were beyond repair, they refused to allow them to die, they continued working, and the results speak for themselves.
This is truly inspiring work by all involved.