A local group has gone to plan B to try and save St. Bernard Church in Digby County, N.S. Photo courtesy La Société Héritage Saint Bernard

Plan B put in place to save heritage Acadian church

  • June 2, 2023

A 32-day campaign to raise funds to save the historic, deconsecrated St. Bernard Church in Digby County, N.S., has fallen more than $2 million short of its intended target.

On April 20, the non-profit organization Nation Prospère Acadie announced it was teaming up with the Société Héritage Saint-Bernard to seek an ambitious $2.5 million by May 23 to save the house of worship. But Michel J.C. Cyr, president of Nation Prospère Acadie’s board of directors, said the flash campaign only collected somewhere “between $116,000 to $120,000.” These monies were essentially solely collected via donations to an online fundraising platform. 

Still, the group is not giving up and has come up with a contingency plan.

“We have decided to prolong the campaign,” said Cyr. “In a sense the first phase (before May 23) was a typical campaign where we put out a press release and then hope that a fair number of people would step forward with funds to donate.

“This new phase, which will last probably until mid-June will see (Nation Prospère Acadie) make calls directly to various organizations and levels of government. In other words, the approach now is no longer to wait until money comes in, but to aggressively knock on doors to see what can be produced.”

But time is short. Cyr said the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth has agreed to extend the purchasing deadline for St. Bernard to June 16 from its original May 26 closing date. The interim plan is to change tactics in a bid to get its fundraising haul closer to the $2.5-million target.

“This majestic granite stone building has stood proudly in the local landscape for over 80 years, and it is incumbent upon all of us, as heirs to this proud heritage, to safeguard it today,” said Cyr. “To succeed with this endeavour is one of the greatest tributes we can pay to the Acadian people of Nova Scotia.”

A board meeting will be held on June 9 or 10 to review the second stage of the campaign and to determine if there is enough strength in this endeavour to move forward.

Nation Prospère Acadie has, identified the saving of St. Bernard as a project that aligns with the organization’s mission. This charity has four focal operational mandates: preserving the continuity of the French language and culture, protecting and enhancing Acadian heritage, conserving Acadian folk art collections and protecting the Acadian nation’s environment.

The official price tag placed on the building by the archdiocese was $250,000, but the campaign sought $2.5 million to complete extensive repairs to the church constructed from 1910 to 1942 by the local Acadian population. It’s estimated that St. Bernard requires $1.325 million in repairs, including fixing extensive interior water damage, the exterior mortar and bolstering the building’s heating and electricity.

This sum would also fund a comprehensive analysis of how the church can be converted into an entity that can be best utilized by the local community.

If the initial purchase price of $250,000 is raised by the board meeting, the team will evaluate if it is armed with enough funds to move forward with the purchase.

“Obviously as an organization that has only been around for five years, we don’t have the resources or bank account to pay for the repairs or analysis that has to be produced to come up with a great plan for the building to remain useful to the community,” said Cyr. “We don’t have enough to take on the rest of the project ourselves.

“Buying the building by June 16 is one thing, but because of the nature of the building and the repairs that must be completed in a short time to avoid any more damage to the structure, (it) gives us very little more time to raise money to complete that operation.”

Whatever money is raised, even if the second phase of the campaign underwhelms, will be bequeathed to the Société Héritage Saint-Bernard.

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