Quebec City's historic Saint-Jean-Baptiste church still faces uncertain future

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Built in 1881, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church on Saint-Jean Street in Quebec City closed in 2015.  (Radio-Canada/Vincent Pichard - image credit)
Built in 1881, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church on Saint-Jean Street in Quebec City closed in 2015. (Radio-Canada/Vincent Pichard - image credit)

While churches across Quebec will be welcoming parishioners for Easter, an iconic 19th-century church building on Saint-Jean Street in Quebec City remains shuttered, with its front gates locked as they have been since November.

Seven years after the last Catholic masses were celebrated at the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church, the Archdiocese of Quebec is still trying to figure out what to do with the building.

"Our insurer asked that we put up these gates, to prevent any accidents," said André Bernier, the general director of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste parish.

The church, reconstructed in 1881, after a fire destroyed the original church built in 1849, is nestled between a school and the neighbourhood's many shops, restaurants and bars. The small church square is often home to festivals and events in the summer months.

Until last fall, discussions were advancing with the previous municipal administration about the possibility of the city buying the church building. Mayoral candidate Marie-Josée Savard had even made it a campaign promise.

Despite her loss to now-mayor Bruno Marchand, the city is not ruling out playing a role in the church's next vocation.

"The reflection on the future of the church is ongoing, and the city acquiring the building is part of that reflection. No decision has been made on the subject," the city said in a statement.

The city said the Institut canadien de Québec, a non-profit organization, is analyzing potential projects for the building and added that city councillor Mélissa Coulombe-Leduc is in contact with all the interested parties.

Radio-Canada/Pierre-Alexandre Bolduc
Radio-Canada/Pierre-Alexandre Bolduc

Several non-profit organizations and community groups had expressed interest in setting up in the building or organizing activities there, said Mario Duchesne, the vicar general of the archdiocese.

He said the nave, the central part of the church, would be ideal for this purpose, and could help bring life to the stretch of Saint-Jean street.

"[It's] a nice space for important events, like concerts," said Duchesne.

One thing that is certain, according to Duchesne, is that the church will no longer operate as a place of worship. Church officials still intend to sell the building for a symbolic price of $1 if a viable project arises.

Renovations needed

While the building is "solid" and in "good shape," according to Bernier, maintaining it is still a significant burden for the parish.

"The church needs repairs. It needs masonry work," Bernier said.

The parish put out a call for tenders in March, to deal with the most urgent work, and is waiting for bids to come in by April 22.

"We're hoping to get some bids at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, people aren't clamouring at the door," Bernier said.

He too hopes the building can find new life with a new purpose, adding that "a building that goes unused is condemned to crumble."

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