PEI

Holland College students restoring 'iconic' doors at St. Dunstan's Basilica

A group of Holland College carpentry students are feeling the pressure right now. For the next six weeks, they'll be busy dismantling and restoring the front doors from one of Charlottetown's most prominent landmarks: The 100-year-old St. Dunstan's Basilica.

'We're all a bit nervous because it's such a prominent feature in our community'

Students took down the main doors at St. Dunstan's Basilica Friday, and transported them to their workshop in downtown Charlottetown. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

A group of Holland College carpentry students are feeling the pressure right now.  For the next six weeks, they'll be busy dismantling and restoring the front doors from one of Charlottetown's most prominent landmarks: The 100-year-old St. Dunstan's Basilica. 

"It's such an iconic building. So for us to be doing the work on the front doors is pretty astounding," said student Tyler Holmes.  

Josh Silver, an instructor with the heritage retrofit program, says each set of doors should take about two weeks to restore. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The 15 students restoring the three sets of doors are part of Holland College's heritage retrofit carpentry program.

David Abbott, the chair of St. Dunstan's Parish finance committee, said while no one knows for sure, it's believed at least parts of the three sets of large gothic-style front doors are original.  

"Oh the doors are well passed their best before date," Abbott said. "They're just not holding the weather out as they should with water seeping in and such. We've patched them and fixed them up. But it's time for this [full restoration]."

Students in Holland College's heritage retrofit carpentry program will get to work Monday dismantling and restoring the historic doors. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Challenge restoring 'complicated doors'

The students and their two instructors say their big challenge will be making any necessary repairs and upgrades to the doors, without losing the historic look and feel. 

Instructor Josh Silver says they plan to use as many of the doors' original materials as possible. 

We're putting a notice in the bulletin, so people don't think we're closing up shop.- David Abbott, St. Dunstan's Parish finance committee

"There are quite intricate carvings on the doors, and multiple pieces with that. So a typical door would have maybe a dozen pieces. This would be into the hundreds. So we're really looking at a high level of skill," said Silver. 

"We're all a bit nervous because it's such a prominent feature in our community, and very historic, complicated doors. But we'll certainly rise to the occasion."

Student Sam Gallant examines the corner of one of the basilica's main doors. She says it's clearly showing its age. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Students have already removed the basilica's largest centre doors, and transported them by truck to their workshop. 

They plan to get to work Monday dismantling the doors, and seeing what they're up against. 

"It'll be looking at what previous craftspeople have done and saying, 'Oh dear God, what are we going to do here to cover up what they've covered up?'" said student Luke Crawford. 

One set of doors at a time 

Silver says he's set aside two weeks for students to complete each set of doors. In the meantime, the basilica's centre doors have been temporarily replaced with large pieces of black plywood. 

"We're putting a notice in the bulletin, so people don't think we're closing up shop," said Abbott. "No doubt there'll be a lot of questions though."

Plywood has replaced the basilica's main doors. It will stay up until the doors are restored and reinstalled. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Students expect they'll be putting in a lot of extra hours over the next six weeks. Not that any of them are complaining. 

"It's got a significant place in Charlottetown, and a lot of people know this door," said student Sam Gallant. "It's an important thing to keep alive, especially the look of it."

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