St. Bernard Church in Digby County, N.S., has been deconsecrated and put up for sale. The Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth says there is plenty of interest in the property. Photo courtesy La Société Héritage Saint Bernard

For sale: landmark Nova Scotia churches

  • April 6, 2023

Despite needing repairs topping $1 million, a recently deconsecrated landmark Acadian church has drawn extensive interest from buyers since being put up for sale by the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth late last month.

On March 23, St. Bernard Church in Digby County, overlooking the Annapolis Basin and historically cherished by the local Acadian community, was officially listed for sale with a $250,000 price tag. A dwindling population in the region through the years led to a precipitous drop from thousands of people attending services to merely dozens. This reality, coupled with the building needing extensive repairs, led to the decision to close St. Bernard’s doors this past summer. 

Suzanne Lefort, a former treasurer for the parish council, stated comprehensive repairs of the roof, water system and 28,000 cubic metre interior would exceed a million dollars. 

Aurea Sadi, spokesperson for the Halifax-Yarmouth archdiocese, said despite the repair laundry list, there has been significant interest in St. Bernard Church.

“We ended up with way more interest than anyone could have anticipated,” said Sadi. “The exhibitor marketed that it was oceanfront, and many indications of interest came through. The ad actually came down on (March 29). And now the archdiocese is reviewing some of these offers.”

According to the listing, 8,000 blocks of granite stone were hauled by oxen from Shelburne, N.S., over two decades to the parish location. The foundation was set in place in 1910. Thirty-two years later, in 1942, the community finalized the 1,300-square-metre place of worship fashioned in the European Gothic-style tradition. 

“Every year the community would raise money that would go towards building St. Bernard,” said Lefort. “A lot of hard work and pride went into it. And obviously (the parish) means a lot because of all the baptisms, first communions, confirmations, weddings and funerals. It has a special place in many people’s hearts for sure.”

The great hope is that whoever buys the property will seek to convert the building into a useful entity for the community. Meanwhile, sacred objects, including religious statues and a crucifix, are expected to find a new home in surrounding parishes. 

St. Bernard is but one of two famed Acadian churches on the auction block. Discussions over the future of the Église Sainte-Marie in Church Point dates back several years. Mass has not been celebrated in perhaps the largest wooden church in North America since 2019. This Catholic house of worship built by carpenter Léo Melanson in 1905 was, much like St. Bernard, celebrated by the local Acadian flock. 

For over three years the Société Édifice Sainte-Marie De La Pointe (Saint-Marie Building Preservation Society) sought to convert the church into a multi-purpose hall, but steadily rising repair costs ultimately forced the group to walk away before the end of last year. 

The archdiocese opened the floor in mid-December for interested buyers to submit an application to purchase the building or to demolish it for another use. Originally the deadline to submit bids was Jan. 30, but the archdiocese extended the process. 

Sadi said “applications have been received and are being reviewed by the archdiocese” in consultation with the local community. 

No hard deadline has been set to finalize the fate for either building. 

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