Heritage group takes trip down memory lane while working to restore old N.B. church

St. Mary the Virgin Church was constructed in 1864. The New Maryland Heritage Association assumed stewardship of the church in 2019. (Submitted/Friends of the Historic New Maryland Church - image credit)
St. Mary the Virgin Church was constructed in 1864. The New Maryland Heritage Association assumed stewardship of the church in 2019. (Submitted/Friends of the Historic New Maryland Church - image credit)

A church with wooden hand-hewn beams and a long history sits in the village of New Maryland. It was deconsecrated in 2019.

With the help of a community association, it may breathe new life down the road.

Pat Burns, secretary of the New Maryland Heritage Association, said she recalls going to the St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church with her whole family growing up.

She was baptized in that church, her parents and sister got married there, and her parents are buried in the cemetery nearby.

"Anyone who has ever seen the inside of the church or been a member of the community … were really basically in awe of the beauty of the inside and even the structure on the outside," said Burns.

Submitted/Friends of the Historic New Maryland Church
Submitted/Friends of the Historic New Maryland Church

After the deconsecration, a call went out for people interested in keeping New Maryland's heritage alive, Burns said. That's how the New Maryland Heritage Association was born.

It took on the goal of restoring the church building. The hope is it will one day be a cultural centre with touchscreen kiosks showcasing historical information and photos from the community.

Judy Wilson-Shee, the association's chair, said the restoration is important to the community because of the sentimental value attached to the former church.

She also got married in the church and her late husband is buried behind it.

"It's just so much history with that church and the inside of the building is just breathtaking, that we had the consensus that we would work on doing the restoration of it," said Wilson-Shee.

Submitted by New Maryland Heritage Association
Submitted by New Maryland Heritage Association

She said along with this church, there were also discussions around another deconsecrated church — St. John the Evangelist. There was a request for proposals last summer, but none panned out, meaning the option of tearing down that church is back on the table.

For the St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Wilson-Shee said next steps include addressing structural issues like the foundation and roof.

While the association doesn't have an exact cost for the church's restoration, it's estimated to be over $200,000.

The association needed to raise some money for the restoration project, along with grants they received.

Submitted/Friends of the Historic New Maryland Church
Submitted/Friends of the Historic New Maryland Church

They came up with the idea for a cookbook fundraiser with recipes submitted from the community, said Mac Burns, Pat's husband and the chair of the cookbook project.

The book was to have one recipe per page.

"It wasn't long [before] discovering that we had room on each of those pages for other things and recipes," said Mac. "So then we said, 'Well, since we're going to share recipes, let's share some memories.'"

From there, the association scoured digital archives and asked people in the neighbourhood for old photos with stories to accompany them.

Hannah Rudderham/CBC
Hannah Rudderham/CBC

Mac said since selling around 200 copies of the book, people approached the association and said some of the photos of their family members were ones they'd never seen before.

Pat and Mac said a lot of the photos they dug up were ones they didn't know existed.

"It was a great learning experience for us," said Mac. "It brought back a lot of memories of days gone by.

"History has a way of disappearing if you don't document it."

Hannah Rudderham/CBC
Hannah Rudderham/CBC

Pat said a lot of the photos came from private collections and documented the old apple orchards, community functions and youth groups.

She said when growing up in New Maryland, despite being close to Fredericton, they wouldn't go to the city for most things.

"It would be really, really nice to have that sense of community back again," said Pat. "I think that this book that was created, it gives us very fond reminders of the strong community that we did have here in New Maryland."