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Saving Notre-Dame: what it will take to rebuild the Paris cathedral

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: inspectors are determining what it will take to rebuild Notre-Dame; families are grappling with what will happen to their loved ones if nursing home workers in New Brunswick walk off the job.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

The steeple and spire of Notre-Dame Cathedral collapse as a huge fire sweeps through the roof of the famed structure in central Paris on Monday. (Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • With the full extent of the damage to Notre-Dame Cathedral yet to be determined, guesstimates put the cost of restoring the iconic structure in the hundreds and hundreds of millions.
  • Families are grappling with what will happen to their loved ones if nursing home workers in New Brunswick are allowed to walk off the job.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

What's next for Notre-Dame

The rebuilding efforts began before the fire was even out.

Last night, French President Emmanuel Macron stood before the still-blazing ruins of Paris' Notre-Dame Cathedraland vowed that the gothic masterpiece will be returned to its full glory.

"I say to you very solemnly this evening: this cathedral will be rebuilt by us all together.... We will rebuild Notre-Dame because that is what the French expect, because that is what our history deserves, because it is our destiny," he declared.

Flames and smoke billow around the gargoyles decorating the roof and sides of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday. (Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)

By this morning, a number of France's richest families and largest corporations had already pledged €600 million — $905 million Cdn — and dozens of online crowdfunding efforts, some officially sanctioned and others citizen-led, were already underway.

UNESCO, the world heritage body, has promised "to stand at France's side," and the mayor of Paris has announced plans for an international donors' conference.

With the full extent of the damage yet to be determined, no one knows how much the repairs will cost. But the initial guesstimate is billions.

At least two-thirds of the medieval timber roof is gone, as is the 180-year old spire. Several historic stained glass windows have been destroyed or severely damaged. And what's left of the church interior, as well as the exterior stone, will have suffered the effects of both the extreme heat and extinguishing water.

This aerial image shows the extent of Monday's fire at Notre-Dame. (AFP/Getty Images)

Just the basic upkeep of Notre-Dame has been costing the French government more than €4 million ($6 million Cdn) a year, while "essential" structural renovations to the roof and walls — like the work on the spire that appears to have sparked the blaze — were budgeted at €150 million ($226 million).

The restoration will require some specialized expertise, and hard-to-come-by materials. The destroyed roof beams, for example, were each carved from a single oak. Sourcing 13,000 sturdy trees to replace them will be a challenge, but the head of a French lumber company has already volunteered to spearhead the effort.

The bigger question might be "how long?"

Smoke is seen rising around the altar and in front of the cross inside Notre-Dame on Tuesday morning. Firefighters were able to save parts of the cathedral. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)

The first stone for Notre-Dame was laid in 1163, but the building wasn't fully completed until 1345, making it a 182-year project.

The mid-19th-century renovations — which were done on the cheap and in a relative hurry — took 21 years.

Modern techniques and technology will surely speed up the process. And even if the original plans for Notre-Dame were lost long ago, an architectural historian digitally mapped the entire interior and exterior of the building with lasers in 2015, providing a precise 3D blueprint.

Inspectors are seen on the roof of Notre-Dame on Tuesday, assessing the damage. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)

The world's great cathedrals used to burn down and get rebuilt on a fairly regular basis. And there are a number of examples of this kind of massive reconstruction project to draw upon from modern times.

The great church in Reimswas set ablaze during a German bombardment at the beginning of the First World War, and its ruins were pounded several more times over the four years of fighting. It took almost two decades, along with significant contributions from rich foreigners like John D. Rockefeller, but the cathedral fully reopened in 1938.

Some of the craftsmen who worked to rebuild the U.K.'s York Minster Cathedral after a lightning strike set the roof ablaze in 1984 are pledging their helpto rebuild Notre-Dame. (Their project took four years and cost just $12 million Cdn in today's dollars.)

Windsor Castle was rebuilt in five years, after a 1992 fire caused by a workman's spotlightgutted 115 rooms and destroyed the medieval roof of St. George's Hall. The Queen ended up footing 70 per cent of the £36.5 million repair bill ($113 million Cdn in today's dollars.)

Even Dresden's Frauenkirche was eventually rebuilt, albeit more than 50 years after Allied bombers reduced it and most of the rest of the German city to ashes with incendiary bombs. The 11-year project, completed in 2005, cost €180 million.

Some of the architectural elements of Notre-Dame had been removed prior to the current renovation work that may have sparked the fire. Statues which sat around the spire of the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris are seen Monday stored in SOCRA workshop in Marsac-sur-Isle near Bordeaux, awaiting restoration. (Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)

In France, there are already calls to fast-track the reconstruction of Notre-Dame. Jack Lang, the former culture minister, today called for a three-year timeline. "I've been hearing that it will take a decade, what nonsense," he said. "You have to set a short deadline, as we've done in the past with other exceptional works."

That might be wise counsel.

The Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona — one of Spain's best-known landmarks — has been under construction since 1882, and won't be completed until 2026 at the earliest.

Last fall, church authorities agreed to pay the city $54 million in fines after going for more than 130 years without securing a building permit.

A few words on ...

A moment of grace amidst a disaster.

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Care and concern in New Brunswick

Families are grappling with what will happen to their loved ones if nursing home workers in New Brunswick are allowed to walk off the job, producer Melissa Mancini writes.

Stuart Lyons doesn't know what he will do with his mother if 4,100 nursing home workers in New Brunswick go on strike.

Marion Lyons has dementia and needs full-time care. Two workers are required to move her from her bed to her wheelchair each morning and back at night. She clutches a doll she calls her baby for comfort. She cannot eat or drink by herself.

"I'm worried that if the nursing home workers are indeed allowed to go on strike, that my mother could develop complications from not getting the care that she needs and that she could actually die," Stuart says.

Stuart and Marion Lyons, at her care home in Moncton, N.B. Suffering from dementia, Marion requires round-the-clock care. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

He adds that he's seen what happens when there are not enough workers to care for the elderly and frail. At the first nursing home where his 88-year-old mother Marion lived she fell, leaving her with a black eye.

Now he's facing the possibility there could soon be very few regular nursing workers to keep Marion safe.

Several weeks ago he received an email from his mother's long-term care facility asking if his family could take his mother home in the event of a strike. And if not, it added, could they send in volunteers to care for her at the nursing home, or hire round-the-clock care — a cost he estimates at about $10,000 a month — for Marion?

Lyons is self-employed and says he can't afford any of those options. He and his wife tried their best to take care of Marion at home, but her needs were just too high.

But he and many others in the province with family in long-term care may be forced to find a solution as the labour battle comes to a head.

Nursing home workers in New Brunswick have been without a contract for more than two-and-a-half years. The union says it is fighting for better pay and more care hours for residents. It says worker retention in homes would be improved if there were better working conditions.

Nursing home workers protest in Fredericton, N.B., on April 12. They have been without a contract for more than two-and-a-half years, and the union is fighting for better pay and more care hours for residents. (David Common/CBC)

The province says it cannot afford a raise of more than one per cent per year for the workers.

The union says workers should be allowed to strike if they can't come to a deal. The province says nursing home staff should be considered an essential service.

Now it seems that the courts will decide.

Tomorrow, a New Brunswick court will hear the case. The decision and a possible strike won't be immediate, so Stuart and other New Brunswick families with loved ones in care may be left with this worry for weeks.

- Melissa Mancini

  • WATCH: More about the New Brunswick nursing home labour battle tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

NHL playoffs

Due to the NHL playoff game (New York at Pittsburgh, 7:30 ET), The National will likely be delayed on the CBC television network tonight. The show will air at its usual time, 9 p.m. ET, on News Network and online.

Quote of the moment

"At this rather difficult moment in our history, we need dreamers and dreams. We cannot give in to fatalism. At least I will not stop dreaming about a better and united Europe."

- European Council President Donald Tusk says he is not giving up hope that the U.K. may do a u-turn on its Brexit plans.

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Federal call centres dropped more than 3 million calls last year (CBC)
  • U.S. measles cases surge nearly 20 per cent in a week (Guardian)
  • London climate-change arrests top 120 on second day of street protests (Reuters)
  • Ecuador hit by 40 million cyber attacks since Assange arrest (Agence France Presse)
  • NASA mission spots Earth-size exoplanet (CNN)
  • Liquid blood found inside prehistoric 42,000 year-old foal (Siberian Times)
  • New scientific device creates electricity from snowfall (Science Daily)
  • Honouring his dying wish, Saskatoon woman preserves husband's tattoos (CBC)

Today in history

April 16, 1970: The noisy, popular snowmobile

It has been a little over a decade since Joseph-Armand Bombardier introduced snow machines to the masses and there's no doubt that they are a hit, with sales doubling each year. By 1970, North American boasts more than a million snowmobiles, with a third of them in Canada. And they're filling the once quiet, winter woods with noise and exhaust fumes

The noisy, popular snowmobile

53 years ago
Duration 26:17
A 1970 report on the snowmobile boom in Canada.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.