You’re 30 feet off the ground, the president of the church’s museum says, and still you’re nowhere close to the ceiling.
It is this grandeur that causes everyone who steps inside this church to look up as they make their way along the aisle lined with pews that can seat 900 people.
There are 41 stained glass windows, and at times during the day the colours from their reflection dance on the walls inside the church. The frames of the stations of the Way of the Cross were hand-carved by Italian-born sculptor Stefano Genette. The large pillars that support the church are Norwegian Red Spruce, covered with plaster. They are 70 feet high and extend from a foundation in the basement to the rafters.
The paintings on the ceiling were done by a man named Louis St. Hilaire, who, incidentally, was scared of heights.
This church is beautiful.
But this church is also old.
There are no more regular weekly services where 900 people gather to worship. It costs too much to keep the building heated. The church still hosts weddings, funerals and special services, but regular services are held in the basement of the rectory that 40 to 50 people attend.
Still, the church holds wonderment.
Its doors stay open throughout the summer for people to visit. This summer more than 7,000 people have.
Monetary donations are sought to help with operating expenses – a $2 donation is requested, although you can see $5 and $20 bills stuffed into the box. The money helps with such things as heat and snow removal.
Every little bit helps.
But in Church Point these days, they'll need more than just a little bit.
A $3-$5 MILLION UNDERTAKING
This massive wooden church stands 185 feet (56.4m) tall from the ground to top of its steeple. It is reported to be the largest wooden church in North America. It measures 190 feet (58m) in length and inside 63 feet (19.3m) in height from floor to ceiling. It opened its doors in 1905 following two years of construction that started in 1903 and was carried out by more than 1,500 volunteers. When the steeple was first built it was actually 15 feet taller, but it was struck by lightning in 1914. Fortunately the rain started to fall, extinguishing the fire.
In the present day, repairs needed to the church’s exterior are expected to cost between $1.34 and $2 million. The roof needs replacement. As do wooden shingles, some windows and mouldings. But structurally it is sound.
“The structure itself is just like it was when it was built 114 years ago,” says Valotaire. “It’s the cosmetics. The make-up. The lipstick and the eye shadow.”
And work needed inside adds to the cost.
The Société Édifice Sainte-Marie de la Pointe is working to see that this church is preserved and maintained as a historique site.
“The verbal agreement we have with the diocese is we are going to buy the church, and then we’re going to repair it,” says Valotaire.
The non-profit society is registered as a Joint Stocks company that also has a federal charitable number. An action plan is being formed to determine how fundraising and ownership of the church will move forward.
The society wants to see the church continue to serve as a living museum, as well as developing other community-based uses for the building.
EVERY LITTLE BIT WILL HELP
Actually, every little bit will help since the society is looking to raise $3-to-$5 million to cover the repairs and purchase the building.
An official fundraising campaign will be launched this fall. Valotaire tries to look at things on a more manageable basis as opposed to the overwhelming task ahead. They’ll use social media and crowdfunding for fundraising. There will be a website, a Facebook page, promotional videos once the campaign is launched.
“If we look at it in a simple way, our first goal is $3 million so we can do $2 million in repair and have $1 million for operating costs,” Valotaire says. “We’re hoping to get to $5 million so we can have money for the interior, but if we get to $3 million we’ll make the move on buying the church.
He says from a simple perspective, if 150,000 people each gave a one-time $20 donation, they’ll have $3 million raised.
Like most things in life, a catch-22 situation applies here.
“There are a lot of funds available to all levels of government, unfortunately they won’t give it to a church while it’s still an active church,” says Valotaire, who says once they purchase it it’ll be a building that used to be a church that will be a monument to the Acadians who built it, as well as operating as a museum.
At that time they can access funds from the government, but they still can’t depend on it.
“So we have to raise all of the money we think we need, just in case we get refused by the government,” he says. “And the government won’t give us any guarantees until we own the building.”
And so, life goes on.
The roof still needs replacement.
As do the wooden shingles.
And the windows.
Buckets trap leaking water next to the organ that sits under a tarp.
And yet your first impression is still that this is an amazingly beautiful structure.
And that’s the intention – to ensure it always stays this way.