Efforts to save historic St. Bernard Church in Digby County, N.S., continue, with an Acadian community group in negotiations with the Archdiocee of Halifax-Yarmouth. Photo from Wikimedia

Tax break sought to save historic Nova Scotia church

  • July 12, 2023

Nation Prospère Acadie is continuing its quest to save historic St. Bernard Church in Digby County, N.S.

The non-profit supporting the cultural touchstones of Atlantic Canada’s Acadian people is pressing forward to purchase the church and has been in intensive meetings in recent weeks to both raise the funds to purchase the building from the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth and seeking tax breaks from the local municipality.

Daniel LeBlanc, the organization’s executive director, has ventured to the area twice in recent weeks to meet with people on the ground who have expressed interest in helping with ongoing fundraising efforts, while board of directors president Michel Cyr told The Catholic Register that LeBlanc also conferred with the Municipality of Clare to secure a more favourable property tax agreement.

The group is seeking a reduction of municipal taxes over the next five years in order to allow for money raised to refurbish the church.

“Our approach with them was quite simple,” said Cyr. “We requested a five-year special ordinance from the municipality suspending the payment of the property taxes until we can get this thing up and running with the repairs and everything else for the building itself.

“The last report I received from our general director was being studied by the (Municipality) of Clare. To our knowledge, they weren’t prepared to accept five years but were prepared to study for four years. What this means, in a nutshell, is that if this sale goes through is that for four years from the date of our purchase, we wouldn’t be paying the exorbitant amount of property taxes currently assessed for the land and the church building. It won’t be so much tax-free, but a substantial reduction. That makes a huge difference.”

Nation Prospère Acadie and the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth continue to deliberate on a timeline to consummate the sale of St. Bernard’s. Aurea Sadi, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, confirmed that all parties involved are determining the best way forward.

“I can confirm that Nation Prospère continues to be interested in the property and is exploring their options to follow through with the purchase,” wrote Sadi in an email. “Conversations have been ongoing with representatives from the parish and archdiocese.”

Cyr said that the latest closing date he has heard is July 28, but, he said, “the archdiocese understands we are waiting for the go-ahead from the Municipality of Clare.”

The price to attain ownership of the 81-year-old, now deconsecrated, Catholic church is $250,000, but transforming the 1,300 square-metre building into something that could be valuable to the community requires a far heftier price tag.

In April, Nation Prospère Acadie declared an ambitious fundraising goal of $2.5 million. Approximately $1.325 million would be devoted to substantially repairing the parish. There is significant interior water damage on the plaster walls, drainage and foundation damage, renovations and insulation required for the basement and a retrofit needed for the electrical system — just to name a few items on the lengthy to-do list.

A trust fund of $500,000 for the long-term preservation of the church and a $500,000 initial interpretation concept for the building are other purchases listed for phase one of this restoration project.

The local Acadian community built St. Bernard Church over 32 years beginning in 1910 under the guidance of Fr. Père Édouard LeBlanc. More than 8,000 blocks of granite were used during the construction. It took two decades to transport all these slabs by boat and then by railroad from Shelburne to St. Bernard.

The fruits of the community’s labour produced a building that measures 65 metres long and 21 metres high from the floor to the apex of the Gothic ceiling.  Local carpenters manufactured the altar, altar railings, confessional booth and flooring. Pews and wall panels were put together using Douglas Fir plywood from British Columbia.

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