'Humbled by the space': Manitoba musician turns derelict church into music venue
Brandon multi-instramentalist Jody Weger bought building 10 years ago
Jody Weger bought the abandoned church in the tiny hamlet of Beresford, Man., on impulse.
The foundation was caving in, the roof was going and the interior had fallen into disrepair.
But the Manitoba musician's impulse buy has likely saved the century-old brick church from an almost certain fate and could breathe new life into the sleepy community.
"The sound in here is just incredible," said Weger, standing in the middle of the small church this week.
Weger, a musician for than 25 years who plays everything from country to blues to folk music on instruments ranging from guitar and bass to mandolin and ukulele, has been restoring the church piece by piece over the last decade.
He started teaching music lessons in the church this week and hopes it can one day be used as a space for musicians to host jam sessions or small concerts in a venue that's off the beaten path.
Beresford, located along the Canadian Pacific railway about 20 kilometres southwest of Brandon and 220 kilometres west of Winnipeg, is about six homes hidden in a group of trees off a gravel road.
It once had a grain elevator (now gone) and its own school as well as the Methodist (later United) Church, but these days, the only sign of the hamlet beyond the trees is a group of community mailboxes along the side of the road.
Church for sale
Weger saw the church while with a friend one day more than a decade ago and said the building spoke to him. As a music producer, the prospect of a space with high ceilings and good reverb was a thrill.
"As luck would have it, shortly after the visit, the church came up for sale," he said, explaining that the local non-profit board that had owned and operated the church for many years had decided to sell it. "It was like, 'Do I do it or not?' "
And after years of restorations and renovations, including a hiatus to tour with the band he was in, Weger is nearly ready to open the space to the public.
Weger has kept many of the original finishes, such as the fir trim and floor, leaving much of the character of the 1903-04 church intact.
"I've tried to keep as much of it original as possible," Weger said. "I enjoy looking at the history of the building as much as anything."
The pews and pulpit, however, have been removed to open it up.
Natural light flows into the building and shows where rows of pews were nailed to the floor.
"The floor really tells quite a history," Weger added, pointing out wear and dents in one spot that he believes were made by someone with a cane sitting in the same spot week after week.
In one corner, Weger is in the process of restoring one of the original stained-glass windows. He hopes to build a small stage where the pulpit once stood. A sky-blue mural with clouds now covers the ceiling.
Humbled by space
The only new construction is a small washroom, which the church didn't have, and a raised platform.
He aims to be done the restoration by Christmas.
"I'm feeling very humbled by the space," Weger said. "So grateful that I can use this for playing music.… That's what it's built for.
"It's a really amazing experience."
Weger said he wants the church to become a community space where people can gather.
Even though there aren't many people in Beresford, they seem excited, he said.