Historic church in Digby County finally facing sale or demolition

The Église Sainte-Marie in Church Point, N.S. was built in the early 1900s by Acadians with plans from France. (Archives of Musée Sainte-Marie - image credit)
The Église Sainte-Marie in Church Point, N.S. was built in the early 1900s by Acadians with plans from France. (Archives of Musée Sainte-Marie - image credit)

A group that has worked for more than nine years to save a unique wooden church in Digby County has decided it cannot raise the funds needed to fix it.

With a rising repair bill estimated at around $11 million, the society says it has exhausted all avenues.

"We're quite sad and we're disappointed that it came to that," said Pierre Comeau, president of the Société Édifice Sainte-Marie De La Pointe.

Built in the early 1900s, it's believed to be the largest wooden church in North America. But it hasn't been used for worship since Christmas 2019, Comeau said.

Richard Landry
Richard Landry

The pipe organ inside is covered by tarpaulins and the roof has a leak, which is the most serious structural problem.

The society had been raising money through donations and was hoping for contributions from various levels of government.

However, it realized it could not raise what was needed, after repair estimates more than doubled due to increased costs for materials and inflation.

"We really worked as hard as we could," Comeau said. "It's unfortunate that it came to this."

The society's initial deadline to raise the funds required was September 2021, but the Halifax-Yarmouth Catholic Archdiocese agreed to extend that by one year.

Archdiocese hopes building will be preserved

The archdiocese has issued a request for proposals for the sale or demolition of the church.

The financial administrator for the archdiocese, John Kennedy, acknowledged it was a difficult decision.

Nonetheless, the archdiocese is hoping there will be proposals that maintain the building in some form.

"If somebody can purchase it and actually restore the building, that would certainly be the preference for us. We really want that to happen," Kennedy said.

If the only proposals submitted are to demolish the building, then the RFP states bids that give back to the community will get preference.

Symbol of Acadian 'perseverance and ingenuity' 

Andre Valotaire has been involved with the church for about 25 years. He said it holds significant meaning for the Acadian community and remains an inspiring building in the area.

"It represents the perseverance and ingenuity of the Acadians to be able to build something like this and the legacy it left behind," Valotaire said.

He continues to check on the building and do minor repairs as the custodian.

"It would be very sad for me to see it go," he said, adding that he can see the church out the window from his dining room table.

All proposals for the purchase or demolition of the building must be submitted to the archdiocese by Jan 30.

Meanwhile the Société Édifice Sainte-Marie De La Pointe will officially terminate its operations on Dec 31.