Demolition of 167-year-old Fredericton church possible after efforts to save it fail

The Anglican parish in charge of the former St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church is exploring the details around having the building demolished and a memorial erected in its footprint after failing to receive any viable proposals for how to repurpose it. (Aidan Cox/CBC - image credit)
The Anglican parish in charge of the former St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church is exploring the details around having the building demolished and a memorial erected in its footprint after failing to receive any viable proposals for how to repurpose it. (Aidan Cox/CBC - image credit)

A last-ditch attempt to save a 167-year-old Anglican church in Fredericton has failed, leaving the parish council exploring the option of having it demolished and erecting a memorial in its footprint.

Last summer the Anglican parish in charge of the St. John the Evangelist Church launched a request for proposals process, hoping to attract an organization interested in rehabilitating the deconsecrated church and using it to serve the community.

However, none of the seven proposals received by the end of August panned out, said Bill MacKenzie, a warden for the church located on Main Street.

"Most of [the proposals] were very brief — not much more than 'I'd like to make this into a home or a workshop or a music venue,'" MacKenzie said.

"But they hadn't gone the necessary steps to turn it into a full proposal and to demonstrate that they had a financially viable, self-sustaining proposal."

$51K repair bill

The old stone church was the place of worship for the St. John the Evangelist parish from its consecration in 1856 (it was built the previous year), until a new church was built across the street in 2010.

Since then, mould that originated in the basement has spread throughout the main worship space, making it dangerous to occupy.

Aidan Cox/CBC
Aidan Cox/CBC

The roof also needs to be replaced, and in a 2019 report it was estimated the work required to fix everything could cost as much as $51,000.

Though the building hasn't been used regularly in more than 10 years, MacKenzie said the parish has still spent about $6,000 a year to keep it heated and ventilated to slow its decay.

He said in fall 2021, the parish council came to a consensus that tearing it down would be the best option to given the costs associated with fixing everything.

However, MacKenzie said backlash from others in the community after word spread on social media led the parish council to pursue one last option — that of giving the public the chance to save the building, though with some strings attached.

Strict conditions for proponents

The council elicited the help of the Fredericton Heritage Trust to co-ordinate the request for proposals.

Conditions included that the proponent pay for the cost of rehabilitating the building, with bonus points going to non-profit organizations looking to use it for community programs or to promote the arts.

Aidan Cox/CBC
Aidan Cox/CBC

However, while the parish was looking for an organization or individual willing to step up and save the church, it wasn't looking to sell the building.

Plus, the parish held the condition that whatever the building was used for couldn't involve the sale of alcohol or tobacco.

Fredericton Heritage Trust president Jeremy Mouat said the first condition was likely a large turn-off to any serious proponents.

"Because the church wanted to hold on to its ownership and basically control the space, that I think put most people off," Mouat said.

"People who were potentially quite interested in doing something interesting with the church, they ultimately only wanted to proceed with that if they had a much more significant degree of control and or ownership."

Possible memorial site

With no viable proposals, MacKenzie said the option of tearing the old church down is back on the table.

"I think one of the reasons we went through the process with the heritage trust … was we felt we needed to demonstrate that we have done best efforts to find a financially sustainable alternative use if we were going to argue for a demolition permit,"  MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie said the parish hasn't applied for a demolition permit yet, and is currently looking at designs and the costs associated with setting up a memorial that would incorporate pieces of the old building, including its columns and windows.

Adam Jan Figel/Shutterstock
Adam Jan Figel/Shutterstock

Another element that might be included is a columbarium, which is a wall with niches that are used to inter the ashes of people who've been cremated, MacKenzie.

MacKenzie said he understands some won't be pleased with the building being demolished, however, he thinks the community would be better served if the parish redirected its funds away from keeping the uninhabitable building standing.

"I think heritage preservation is important for the community, but it's not the top priority for our church," MacKenzie said.

"We serve the people of our congregation and the people of the surrounding community, and in an environment of scarce resources, you know, we'd rather give money or services to help … people that are feeling challenged."