St. Alphonsus makes heritage website's top 10

'For this church to remain, that would mean a lot to me'

Sharon Montgomery-Dupe
Published on July 22, 2014
Martin MacKinnon of South Bar visits the gravesite of his late wife, Gloria, at the St. Alphonsus Cemetery, with his border collie mix, Lucky, by his side. MacKinnon said he's happy to hear about the designation by Heritage Canada The National Trust of the church as one of the top 10 endangered buildings in Canada, feeling the exposure might help save it.
TC Media - Cape Breton Post

VICTORIA MINES — The St. Alphonsus Church has gone from local interest to national attention overnight.

An announcement the church has been designated as one of the top 10 endangered buildings in Canada by Heritage Canada The National Trust was welcome news to Martin MacKinnon, who began attending the church as a child in 1936.

"My wife, mother and father, brother and grandmother are all buried here," MacKinnon said, while walking through the cemetery Monday visiting his family's gravesites with his border collie mix, Lucky by his side. "For this church to remain, that'd mean a lot to me."

MacKinnon not only attended the church throughout the years, but helped look after the grounds and was part of a group that did the church over in the 1980s. He's still involved 78 years later, including recently painting the base of a monument in the graveyard.

He said after all these years they'd like to see the church remain a place where people can go. He was happy to hear of the designation of the church on the foundation’s endangered list.

"That means something — I'm happy about that."

MacKinnon said hopefully this will help the society in their work to obtain the church.

"I give them credit for what they are doing."

Officials at Heritage Canada said other media were incorrectly reporting that "Heritage Canada" made the designation, when the federal government department has nothing to do with it.  Heritage Canada The National Trust is a national charity — not connected to the government — that inspires and leads action to save historic places, and promotes the care and wise use of the historic environment.

Melanie Sampson, a member of the Stone Church Restoration Society, was ecstatic over the news.

"Now it's not just a local level — it's been brought to a national level," she said.

"This building is not only important to the people of Cape Breton but is now considered a building that needs to be saved on behalf of Canada."

Sampson said the society contacted the trust foundation back in February for a letter of support when the society first started.

She said the society never applied for this status and only found out the news through a message on Facebook.

"We were contacted by a lady from Calgary, who asked 'When did St. Alphonsus become one of the top 10 with the Heritage Canada The National Trust?'"

"We were very shocked indeed," Sampson said."We think it's wonderful."

Sampson said when one considers all the beautiful buildings there are in the country, this is amazing news.

"With all the beautiful buildings to be torn down and demolished, it's quite an honour to be considered one of the top 10," she said." I think this will help us immensely."

Sampson said the former church has significant value as a tourist destination.

"We are hoping to go with Fort Petrie, Low Point Lighthouse and end up at the colliery."

The St. Alphonsus Church was slated for demolition, which has been put on hold pending the proposal by the Stone Church Restoration Society to the Diocese of Antigonish to purchase the building to preserve it for community use. Bishop Brian Dunn said at an earlier date the society had asked for more time, until Oct. 31, to develop a business plan, which has been granted.

Dunn was unavailable for comment on Monday.

Natalie Bull, executive director of Heritage Canada The National Trust, said the trust foundation makes the list in response to a call for nominations.

"Community groups submit buildings they're fighting to save, where they feel inclusion on the list would help their cause."

However, Bull said, the foundation also follows media stories throughout the year.

"Often we're aware of these places long before the call for nominations."

She said this program is one of their tools to  bring national attention.

"Often it's a shot in the arm for the organization trying to save a building."

She said with historic churches, communities across the country are facing similar issues.

"Historic churches are really emerging as endangered species."

She said the foundation felt this was the case with St. Alphonsus, with the community support to keep the building evident.

"We felt this was a good example."

Bull said two new sites are added to the list each year.  The goal is to see as many sites move off the list as possible, she added.

"We are still following sites added to the list 10 years ago. Sometimes these cases don't close quickly."