Saskatoon

Music venues, art studios and dream homes: How rural Sask. churches are finding a 2nd life

Churches across Saskatchewan have been decommissioned and scooped up by creative families, entrepreneurs, and dreamers. CBC Saskatchewan's Leap of Faith feature elicited lots of reaction and excitement from church-dwellers.

Great potential in buildings, but owners sometimes have to deal with quirks like porta-potties, crooked walls

The Bethany is a former church turned music venue in Hazlet, Sask. Its owners, Lindsay Alliban and Erin McKnight, have a love of live music, beautiful spaces and rural community. (Sean Renwick)

Churches across Saskatchewan have been decommissioned and scooped up by creative families, entrepreneurs, and dreamers.

Leap of Faith, a CBC feature on people living in former churches in rural Saskatchewan, elicited lots of reaction and excitement from others in the midst of their own church projects.

Here are some of the other Saskatchewan churches finding a second life as homes, music venues and more.

A new music venue for Hazlet

It used to be the Bethany Lutheran Church, but the event and music venue in Hazlet — about 60 kilometres northwest of Swift Current — goes by "The Bethany" now.

Business partners Lindsay Alliban and Erin McKnight like live music and were tired of driving to bigger centres to hear it.

So they created their own venue with what they had in town.

The women, who both have other careers, bought the structure for the cost of a land title transfer and lawyers' fees.

"We worked out a deal with the remaining Lutherans in town and the village to say we would respect the architectural integrity and the history of the building," said Alliban.

The church had been decommissioned, and sat vacant for two decades.

"We wanted to save the building," she said.

Business partners Lindsay Alliban and Erin McKnight bought the Bethany Lutheran Church in Hazlet three years ago and have converted it into a live music space. (Katie Toney)

The first order of business once the paperwork was complete was to paint the church's interior. It took a whole summer.

The roof has also been redone, and Alliban and McKnight are preparing to rip up the green carpet covering the floors.

"There's hardwood hiding underneath it," said Alliban.

There are also plans to add a kitchenette and bathroom. There is no running water in The Bethany — yet.

"Our clients have been wonderful," said Alliban.

"They use a lovely porta-potty outside."

'I'd like to say it's fate'

Mariann Taubensee's partner, Dave Coulter, was on a long-haul trucking trip when he found himself in a truck stop outside Paynton, a village 180 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

There was a notice board up, advertising a house for sale.

Mariann Taubensee and her partner bought the building that would become Salvation Art Gallery at a time when they were looking for a cheaper alternative than living in Edmonton. (Submitted by Mariann Taubensee)

"I'd like to say it's fate," said Taubensee.

Coulter and Taubensee had been thinking about a change of scenery, since the cost of living in Edmonton was becoming oppressive.

Unfortunately, the house had already been sold when the couple called the number on the notice board. But the truck-stop attendant had an idea.

"She said, 'Well, I know this other place,' so she got us the contact information for the church," said Taubensee.

"It actually had been bought by another gentleman when it got decommissioned, and he unfortunately died of cancer six months after he bought the church."

The church had been decommissioned in the late-1990s and sat empty, part of the man's estate, for years.

When the couple called the man's father, they purchased the church for the cost of back-taxes.

"It was in good shape but it was sitting empty for a while," she said.

Mariann Taubensee's studio, Salvation Art Gallery, has undergone renovations over the last few years. The church was decommissioned in the late 1990s and bought by a man who died six months later. (Submitted by Mariann Taubensee)

The bathrooms had been ripped out of the building and the furnace didn't pass inspection. The couple repaired the church and have been happy there ever since.

"It's my home and also my art studio and gallery," said Taubensee.

She creates upcycled, structural art from found objects.

Her studio name is fitting for her art and her home: Salvation Art Gallery.

'It took 3 years to straighten the walls'

Paul Carroll and his wife bought Saint Paul's United in the heart of Bienfait, 195 kilometres southeast of Regina, in 2004, just as the former Presbyterian church was shutting down.

The main floor is 1,500 square feet, almost matched by the upstairs loft bedroom.

The Carrolls started with a slanted old United church in Bienfait, Sask., and made it into their dream home within a few years' time. (Submitted by Paul Carroll)

But there was work to do as soon as empty nesters the Carrolls moved in.

"It took three years to straighten the walls," said Paul.

"It has rods going through it, so every week I'd go and give it a little crank to bring the walls up straighter."

Once the church was straight enough, the couple decided on their ideal layout, and built the bedroom loft where the choir loft used to be.

'We always marvelled at the potential those types of buildings have,' says Paul Carroll, the owner of this former church in Bienfait. (Submitted by Paul Carroll)

They also found there was no insulation in the walls.

Paul says he's received help from a carpenter here and there, and his architect brother-in-law.

"We always marvelled at the potential those types of buildings have," he said.

A perfect arts showcase

Wayne Pollock had been a potter in Francis — about 65 kilometres southeast of Regina — for over 25 years, when members of the United Church there asked if he was interested in acquiring their building.

The congregation was dwindling, and they were no longer able to maintain it. 

The 3,200-square-foot church had been built in 1926, but by 2006, members were close to shutting its doors, he recalled.

The United Church in Francis, Sask., offered 3,200 square feet of space, over two levels. (Submitted by Wayne Pollock)

"The church was structurally sound," he wrote in an email to CBC News, saying that extensive renovations transformed the interior into a studio-style living space, and exterior upgrades completed the transformation.

The high ceilings and stained-glass windows have provided a great space to showcase his artwork and pottery, Pollock says. 

Wayne Pollock says that extensive renovations has seen the interior of this church transformed into a studio-style living space. (Submitted by Wayne Pollock)

"We find that a renovated church, less than 40 minutes from a major centre, allows for peaceful small-town living for artisans or anyone looking for a unique living space."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story indicated The Bethany was in Hague, Sask. In fact, it is in Hazlet, Sask.
    Jan 12, 2019 10:22 AM CT

About the Author

Bridget Yard

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Bridget Yard is a video journalist based in Saskatoon. She has also worked for CBC in Fredericton and Bathurst, N.B.

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