Century-old Digby County wooden church in danger of demolition
Nova Scotia Heritage Trust believes the church is largest wooden church in North America
A 120-year-old Digby County church believed by the Nova Scotia Heritage Trust to be the largest wooden church in North America is in danger of being demolished.
The former Église Sainte-Marie in Church Point has not hosted regular services for at least a year and is in need of some significant repairs. But the Acadian community in the Municipality of Clare has rallied to try to save the historic structure.
"We consider it a unique monument to the faith and the ingenuity of our Acadian forefathers here," said Pierre Comeau, president of the Société édifice Sainte-Marie de la Pointe.
Comeau's group spent three years negotiating with the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth for an agreement that gave them another three years to raise the funds to restore the building. But time will be up as of Sept. 30, and the group has not met its funding goal.
Although Comeau said it had made significant progress, including starting talks with multiple levels of government for support, the pandemic stalled the group's fundraising efforts. Over the past few years, the estimated costs to restore the building have skyrocketed to $11 million from $3 million.
Comeau said the price tag is partially due to the pandemic's effect on building material prices and partially due to the extraordinary size of the structure.
The community group requested an extension of the funding deadline, but received a letter from the archdiocese saying the request was denied.
The letter did not explain why and the archdiocese did not make anyone available for an interview.
John Kennedy, financial administrator for the archdiocese, said in an email that the archdiocese has an agreement with Société edifice Sainte-Marie de la Pointe and awaits a response to a letter sent on July 29.
The Acadian community is not the only group that wants to see this heritage building preserved. The National Trust of Canada and the Nova Scotia Heritage Trust have said it has provincial and national significance.
"This is such an extraordinary structure," said Allen Robertson of the Nova Scotia Heritage Trust. "To remove the church at Church Point would be like removing the Eiffel Tower from Paris."
Robertson hopes an agreement will be reached for more time, adding the building is designated as a heritage property under provincial legislation. If the archdiocese chooses to deregister or demolish the building, it must obtain provincial cabinet approval first.
Robertson said that would be a mistake.
"This is of great cultural importance, but also as extraordinary workmanship, craftsmanship, the artistic endeavour which has gone into this," Robertson said. "There is nothing else within North America that can compare to it."
Robert Pajot from the National Trust said the demolition of heritage structures in Canada happens far too often. He believes the system is stacked against the preservation of existing structures, heritage or not.
Defaulting to demolishing buildings makes no sense from cultural, ecological or practical perspectives, said Pajot. He said the country needs federal tax incentives for owners of designated heritage buildings to make it feasible for them to invest in and revitalize them.
"Unfortunately, it's something that we and the heritage groups across the country have been arguing for decades," Pajot said.
"Canada has to catch up. We're 40 years behind so many other countries."