A couple of hundred parishioners and townsfolk turned out to watch as Windsor construction company W.D. Lester used a truck crane to hoist the almost 14,000 kg (30,000 lbs.) steeple into place in less than a half hour. Photos by Ron Stang

Ste. Anne’s massive spire put back where it belongs after 10 years

By  RON STANG, Catholic Register Special
  • November 14, 2017

TECUMSEH, Ont. – A cheer went up here in the early morning of Nov. 14 as a cupola and spire, after sitting 10 years on the front lawn of Ste. Anne Church, was finally reattached to the church’s new re-cladded tower.

A couple of hundred parishioners and townsfolk turned out in the November chill, aided by donated coffee and donuts, to watch as Windsor construction company W.D. Lester used a truck crane to hoist the almost 14,000 kg (30,000 lbs.) steeple into place in less than a half hour.

The reattachment was a long time coming. After severing the steeple in 2007, the church — the Windsor area’s second oldest after Assumption Church — was in the unusual position of having to place it on their lawn until the parish was able to raise funds to rehabilitate and re-attach it.

Gayle Lachapelle, parishioner and Tecumseh resident, witnessed the re-attachment, just as she watched the spire being taken off the church 10 years ago. “It was heartbreaking to see it come down,” she said. “There’s tears of joy to see it go back up.”

The green light came last year when local businessman and benefactor Al Quesnel anted up $2.5 million for the project, which not only includes the steeple but a major restoration to all the church’s exterior walls, as well as other improvements including a new HVAC system, restrooms, parking lot and roof. The church, built in 1873, has also launched its “Aspire for Our Future” campaign to raise an extra $1.7 million.

Fr. Eugene Roy, St. Anne’s pastor has supervised the project since its inception. “It’s been fascinating for me to see the craftsmanship” of the restoration, he said.

Mississauga-based Roof Tile Management oversaw the cupola restoration. All the former galvanized steel was stripped off, the sub-surface wood repaired and reinforced, and then the structure was re-cladded with lead-coated copper. “It will be shiny for awhile,” Roy said. “Eventually it will turn to pewter but it will never require painting or maintenance, and that’s a big part of the advantage of this.”

The rehabilitation also included stripping the exterior church walls of stucco and mortar applied in 1918 to the original red brick to give the walls a stone-like finish. 

“That was deteriorating, falling apart, falling off the wall, and that became a hazard,” Roy said. It was replaced with new masonry — pre-cast concrete with a stone finish. The original brick was reinforced with steel rods and plates. “So the church essentially is better built than it was in 1873,” the priest said.

The spire was originally removed in 2007 because of wood rot, but the tower top has been rebuilt with a poured concrete slab. The spire will now sit on 12 steel columns, replacing the original wood pegs. 

The church has as many as 2,700 registered families and is bilingual with roots in the area’s original French community.

Ed Renaud, a former mayor of Tecumseh who sits on the church’s building and fundraising committees, said St. Anne has always been “a focal point” for the town.

“Once the spire came down it was a little devastating to most of the people in the community,” he said. “But they figured it would go up within a couple of years. Unfortunately, it took 10 years for it to go up.”

The church dominates the original small town, now also a fast-growing Windsor bedroom community, and the steeple and its cross has been used as a beacon for aircraft flying into nearby Windsor airport.

Dino DiMurro, construction and restoration manager for the Diocese of London who liaised with the local parish, said this project was unique because of the length of time it took. “Basically it’s been years in the making, obviously — the spire restoration and the masonry restoration — and it’s coming to a close,” he said. 

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