Community wanted building for museum, weddings
DILIGENT RIVER – Just this summer the local community celebrated the historic significance of St. John Anglican Church with an inuksuk memorial dedicated to the memory of its founder, famed “Eskimo priest” Simon Gibbons.
© Andrew Wagstaff - cumberlandnewsnow
Diligent River Community Hall Association vice-president Corlas Collins and secretary/treasurer Gale Boland are disappointed to see the former St. John Anglican Church due for possible demolition. The association had hoped to make use of the building, designed by Simon Gibbons and built in 1890, as a tourist bureau and museum for the community, but cannot afford the cost of moving the structure to a new location.
But that and more than a century of other happenings at the church will soon be nothing more than memories. Deconsecrated earlier this year, the building appears set for a date with the wrecking ball.
“We’ve kind of resigned ourselves to the fact that it’s a no-win situation,” said Gale Boland, secretary/treasurer of the Diligent River Community Hall Association.
Deconsecrated in April of this year, the building is now available for secular purposes but not on its present site, which includes a consecrated cemetery. It has been offered to the local association for the nominal purchasing price of $1, with the stipulation that the building be moved at the expense of the buyer. That cost of moving has proven too much for the association.
“All hope is gone, unless someone won a big lottery and said they were willing to pay for it,” said Boland. “We can’t raise what would be at least $50,000 (to move it).”
Built in 1890 on land donated by the Salter family, St. John the Evangelist Church became the fourth in the Parish of Parrsboro, along with St. George’s in Parrsboro, Holy Trinity in Fox River, and Christ Church in Black Rock. When the Parish of Parrsboro was subdivided, St. John's became part of the new Parish of Holy Trinity, Port Greville.
Congregations averaged between 12-20 over the years until the 1960s, when numbers began to dwindle. By the 1970s the numbers were often below 10, and in the mid-1980s the church became the responsibility of Holy Trinity Church when two people could not be found to stand for the leadership position of warden.
The last regular service was held at the church in 2005, followed by a funeral in 2008. The parish voted to deconsecrate the church in 2010, spurring a protest from community members, and it was kept on life support for three more years.
“A great deal of time and energy was expended by clergy and lay people of both Port Greville and Parrsboro Parishes to support the services at St. John's and to encourage the Diligent River area folks to get involved in the church as a church,” said Rev. Tory Byrne. “We were not successful. So the building served no sacred purpose.”
Having been deconsecrated in April, the building is no longer a church, but some members of the community still believe it could be an asset, especially with its historical value. Attempts have been made by the community association to find funding to move the building across the road, where members of the Diligent River United Baptist Church have agreed to allow the building to be located on that property.
“We were going to set it over there, and maybe make it into a tourist bureau for this area,” said Corlas Collins. “We could hire a student for the summer, have antiques from around the community and use it as sort of a museum for the community.”
Indications from the municipal office were that the building could also be given heritage designation, no matter where it is located, according to Collins.
Parrsboro project co-ordinator Taylor Redmond, who has been working on marketing the Parrsboro region as a wedding destination, said the church would be perfect for use as a country wedding chapel.
The association had moving expert Phil Leil examine the building, and he reported it to be in excellent structural condition and conducive to a move. He even said he could do it without disturbing nearby gravesites. But the job would still cost $25,000.
On top of that, Leil recommended that at least a frost wall be poured for the building to sit on at its proposed new location, and association members estimated that work would cost upwards of another $20,000. Another bill would come from Nova Scotia Power, as utility wires would have to be temporarily displaced to make the move possible. This too would cost more than $20,000, according to Collins.
“The sills of that building are in perfect condition, like they were laid yesterday,” said Collins. “It would be there for another 400-500 years, if it was left the way it is.”
The association hoped to have more time to explore more options, and Boland said they were given a year in May to do so. But an August letter from the parish leaders asked for a decision from them by Sept. 16. At this point they accepted the building’s fate.
The building is now for sale to the general public, a tender that is due on Nov. 22.
“If there is no viable offer of purchase, demolition for re-use will be the next option,” said Byrne. “The building will not be left to rot and fall apart like the Presbyterian church across the road from St. John's. It may not be a consecrated building, but it deserves better treatment than that.”