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By Shelley Steeves Global NewsPosted March 12, 2019 1:23 pm Updated March 12, 2019 3:54 pm
The future of community churches across the country is grim, according to a national charity that aims to protect historic buildings across the country.
But a New Brunswick man has saved at least one of the thousands that could soon be lost.
Danny Legace has spent the last three years bringing the Boundary Creek Baptist Church back to life. In 2016, he purchased the church, which was built in 1842.
The parish closed down for religious services in 1996 and the building was being used as a storage facility for two decades.
Legace spent three years painstakingly gutting the entire building and converting the historic building, which built before Confederation, into a vacation and event rental property. The new business is called Old Church Cottages and opened in January.
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He says he salvaged as much as he could, saving the floor boards and wood paneling to incorporate into his renovation project. His goal was to preserve as much of the church’s history as possible.
Lagace says the same can be done to save thousands of churches across the country.
“It does not have to be religious. There is a lot of things that people can do with these old buildings, if they want to put the time in,” he said.TWEET THISCLICK TO SHARE QUOTE ON TWITTER: "IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE RELIGIOUS. THERE IS A LOT OF THINGS THAT PEOPLE CAN DO WITH THESE OLD BUILDINGS, IF THEY WANT TO PUT THE TIME IN," HE SAID.
According to a the National Trust for Canada, a group that works to save historic buildings across the country, as many as 9,000 community churches are likely to be lost in the next five to 10 years.
Dwindling congregations and a lack of funds has already forced the closure of many churches, says Robert Pajot, the group’s project manager for regeneration.
“So that is why when we say it is a crisis, it really is. Every community across the country is going to be impacted,” he said.
He says many of the churches will be sold off and some are likely to be demolished as congregations simply cannot afford the costly upkeep.
“That is always extremely hard to see for a community and for myself as a heritage advocate,” he said.
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WATCH: Crowd-funding campaign launched to save crumbling church
2:40Crowd-funding campaign launched to save crumbling church
He says that historically, churches are not only places of worship, but are also the heart of a community.
“Places for creativity, learning, living, children’s programming. They play a huge role across the country from small towns to big cities and when those valued hubs are lost, it is heartbreaking for the community as a whole,” he said.
The national trust is working with community groups across Canada to come up with creative ways to save as many churches as possible.
“We are not going to save them all, we realize that” said Pajot.TWEET THISCLICK TO SHARE QUOTE ON TWITTER: "WE ARE NOT GOING TO SAVE THEM ALL, WE REALIZE THAT" SAID PAJOT.
But they are keeping the faith that more people like Legace will step forward to save even a precious few.
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Lagace says his property is still sacred in his eyes and people from the community are welcome to visit.
“I see people coming in and visiting the tombstones of their families so it is kinda neat to see that,” he said.
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The Atlantic Telejournal. Segments.
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Danny and Jo-Anne Lagacé met in Ontario in 2006. Their first encounter wasn’t particularly eventful, but the couple connected over their Acadian heritage and the commonality of being away from home. Although they kept in touch, it wasn’t until 2008, when Danny was in Ontario again, waiting to be deployed on a tour of duty to Afghanistan with the military, that their relationship as a couple began.
Danny was born and raised in northern New Brunswick in the small community of McKendrick. When he was nineteen, he joined the military, and he spent the next twenty-five years of his life in the service. Being in the military afforded him the incredible opportunity of travelling the world, allowing him to experience a plethora of cultures, customs, and people, as vibrant and unique as his own.
On his return to Canada from Afghanistan in 2011, he was posted to Moncton from the Ontario military detachment, and he spent the next four years there until he retired in 2015 due to injuries sustained while in the service.
After his departure from the military, he found himself in a state of latency, unsure what to do with himself. The previous twenty-five years had been methodical, filled with structure and adherence to duty. Not having that anymore was an enormous adjustment, and he found himself constantly thinking about transition–finding a new purpose after the military.
In 2016, while on a “picking” excursion (a hobby of his was visiting old houses, churches, and farms to rummage and salvage pieces of interest), he stumbled across a church in Boundary Creek and was immediately drawn in. The history of the place fascinated him, and he reached out to the owners to inquire about the building.
Boundary Creek Baptist Church
He saw this as the perfect transition project for him. His instincts, on the other hand, were screaming out to him to play it safe–to walk away and not wade into uncharted waters, but he did not want to fall into the “safe” trap. With Jo-Anne’s support and encouragement, he decided to purchase the church and convert it into a workshop.
Insurance issues and constraints made it difficult to realize his workshop plans for the church. It became very complicated with permits, regulations, and red tape that had to be followed, and so, Danny found himself changing gears.
Thus began the evolution of Old Church Cottages. The more he thought about it, the clearer the vision became, and with Jo-Anne’s help, he began to bring that vision to life–renovating and converting the church into a rustic retreat in the heart of Boundary Creek, on the outskirts of Moncton and Salisbury.
Originally built in 1842, the Boundary Creek Baptist Church was the only church in the community at that time. The village was bustling with activity–home to a shipyard, train station, carriage workshop, tannery, and inns, to name a few. During World War I, the church was even used as a recruitment centre for the army.
Undated picture of Boundary Creek Baptist Church (top left and bottom), featured together with Allison Baptist Church (top right) and Rev. Burkee (centre).
Over the years, the church underwent five different renovations, and in 1996, it officially closed its doors as a church. It was briefly used after that as a Sunday school, but once that sojourn ended, it fell into disrepair. It was bought and used for storage in the early 2000’s until Danny purchased it in 2016.
A few months after buying the church in Boundary Creek, Danny was back home in McKendrick when he came across the Flatlands Baptist Church in Flatlands, New Brunswick, which was for sale. Located right on the border of Quebec and New Brunswick, and boasting majestic views of the Restigouche River, it was idyllic and tranquil, and Danny had to have it.
Flatlands Baptist Church in Flatlands, NB
His vision for the church in Boundary Creek had been well in the works by then, and he immediately saw the potential that this one held. The owners agreed to sell it to him, and he and Jo-Anne set about applying their vision and renovating the place. They are aiming for completion on these premises in the summer of 2019.
Danny and Jo-Anne are specific on the marketing of the cottages:
They have invested considerable time and money into developing a strategic marketing plan to ensure the success of both cottages. Their tenacity and determination to make this a success shines through in the passion with which they speak about the ventures.
As for the church in Boundary Creek, renovations have been completed and it is officially open for business. The building was recently granted historical designation status, and the exterior and interior of the old church retain this historical integrity. The cottage sleeps eight, and, although it boasts all the creature comforts of modern amenities and luxury, it is still rustic and steeped in rich historical detail. It is a hidden gem, offering a welcome and unexpected respite just miles away from the city of Moncton. Even for those looking at a venue for a “staycation” with friends or a weekend getaway close to the city, Old Church Cottages is definitely an option to consider.