Exterior of St. Patrick’s Church in Halifax, NS Google street view

Halifax heritage church's future in flux, closed due to structural issues

  • July 4, 2024

While St. Patrick’s Church in Halifax remains closed due to structural concerns, parish and community members are still waiting with bated breath for an official decision that will decide the fate of the property.

As recently as  June 20, the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) posted an Order to Comply for the church’s immediate clearance. This news comes on the back of Halifax Archbishop Brian Dunn announcing in May that along with St. Theresa's Church, St. Patrick’s would officially close on the recommendations of parish leadership of St. Clare of Assisi Parish and St. Francis.

With the second closure notice announced, St. Patrick’s shut its doors temporarily on June 21, with a mandatory zero capacity order in place until a structural assessment report can be submitted to the HRM for review and approval.

Structural concerns, most notably in the church’s steeple and tower, have certainly impacted the closure. The archdiocese also listed the church’s location, attendance, pastoral capacity and finances as reasons for its decision to close the parish altogether. June 30 was scheduled to be the date of the last Mass at St. Patrick’s, however, the archdiocese confirmed that the parish would arrange a new final Mass date and the removal of sacred objects after work has been done to make the structure safe to enter.

According to CBC News, Aurea Sadi, communications officer for the Halifax-Yarmouth Archdiocese, revealed in an email that a report from structural engineers had advised the archdiocese to remove the church's steeple entirely.

The idea of removal of parts of the building is where things get complicated, as St. Patrick’s, first founded as a parish in 1843 and the church opened in 1885, is considered both a provincial and municipal heritage property.

“St. Patrick’s Church has seen so many changes in that neighbourhood and its architectural and cultural significance connect to so many in the community,” said Emma Lang, the executive director of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, an association responsible for protecting, educating and advocating for built heritage 50 years or older in the province. “If you look at pictures of the Halifax Harbour from the late 19th century, and you can see the church’s spire and even today when I took the ferry into work, it is still there and visible… that is something important to this city and its history.” 

Heritage Trust says any major modifications to the church (including the prospect of demolition) must first go through a process with the province. The archdiocese would have to inform both the provincial as well as municipal heritage offices about any changes it plans to make to St. Patrick's. 

“It does not mean that those plans will not be approved, it just means that you cannot decide one day to make a major change. There needs to be an evaluation based on the heritage value of the structure,” Lang said. 

Although Lang is aware that nothing is certain yet, she made a point of reflecting on the innate value of historic buildings like St. Patrick’s and the effect they have on people dear to them. 

“There is a reason we save grandma’s wedding dress even though no one is ever going to wear it and the cousins think it looks ugly,” she said. “People truly connect to objects, it is the same reason we save baby clothes and often buildings are like that too. They are often the starting point for telling stories and the history of our communities and although you don’t lose the story when you lose the building, you have to work much harder to maintain that story and keep it alive.” 

A spokesperson for the provincial Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage told CBC News the department has not received a formal application for substantial alterations to the church, although the archdiocese has inquired about the process. 

In an article done by CTV News, it was revealed that a spokesperson for the church, John Murphy, is challenging the closure, saying parishioners have delivered a detailed appeal to the Vatican's nunciature in Ottawa as of June 18, and that “Pending the outcome of our appeal to the Vatican, we plan to work with the archdiocese in securing a reasonable quote for repair of St. Patrick’s Church based first on immediate needs, then short-term repairs and lastly, long-term renovations to save St. Patrick’s for future generations."

The current estimated cost of immediate renovations was quoted at a steep $12.5 million, a number expected to grow after a tentative detailed study of the structure. 

As St. Patrick’s future is left in a state of uncertainty and as Heritage Trust does its part to ensure the necessary steps are being taken before decisions are finalized, parishioners will continue to find a new place to worship as best they can. 

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