A New Brunswick-based charity and a heritage society have partnered to help purchase and restore a historic Acadian church in Nova Scotia that went up for sale in late March.

On Thursday, Nation Prospère Acadie announced it was partnering with La Société Héritage Saint Bernard to launch a campaign to raise funds to save Saint Bernard. When the church was put up for sale last month, the Halifax-Yarmouth Archiocese was swamped with interest and offers and took the listing down after only a few days on the market.

Michel JC Cyr is the chair of Nation Prospère Acadie. The Bouctouche, NB-based registered charity started in 2018 to develop and implement sustainable solutions that allow the Acadian culture and community to prosper in the 21st century. The group has four “fields of action”: sustainability of French culture and life; protection and enhancement of heritage; conservation of Acadian folk art collections; and protection of the natural environment of Acadie.

Cyr said the group was reading news stories about Sainte-Marie, another church a short drive away from Saint Bernard, which was at risk of demolition. Another community group had worked for years to save that church, which is the tallest wooden church in North America. Then an anonymous donor came forward with a $10 million offer to save that church, provided it remains as a functioning church. Cyr said that story was the inspiration for this current campaign.

“It basically gave us a wakeup call saying, well, if that little miracle happened for one community, why not give it one last kick in the can for the wonderful structure of Saint Bernard,” Cyr said.

’32 days is a symbolic start to the campaign’

The campaign, which kicked off on Thursday, will last for 32 days with a goal to raise $2.5 million. The number 32 represents the number of years it took the community to build the granite church. Construction started in 1910 and the building was complete in 1942.

“The 32 days is a symbolic start to the campaign,” Cyr said. “It may ultimately last longer. From our point of view, we were already encouraged that there was some interest in Nova Scotia. It will give us a good indication if there is interest in Atlantic Canada to preserve that kind of collective heritage we have.”

Cyr said the $2.5 million will help cover the cost to purchase Saint Bernard and then to do the necessary repairs on the structure, including a new roof that has been leaking for some time and upgraded heating system. Cyr said the remainder of the money will be used to pay for a feasibility study to find out how best to use the building. Cyr said the community will lead on the input.

A black and white photo of a stone church. The photo dates from about the 1940s. There are people milling about outside the church and old cars are lined up along the loop of a driveway in front of the church.
Saint Bernard Church. Credit: La Société Héritage Saint Bernard

Cyr said Nation Prospère Acadie saw in Saint Bernard an opportunity to pass down to the next generation a structure that is so important in the Acadian community. But the campaign is also to honour how the community came together for decades to build Saint Bernard.

“To be able to raise such a building in the course of 32 years is a phenomenal undertaking,” Cyr said. “It’s kind of a legacy we now have to deal with and whether we want these types of structural, tangible elements of the Acadian culture to simply disappear for lack of interest, or lack of money. If we can, we will find the funds necessary to not only save the building, but eventually give it back to the community for all kinds of good reasons.”

‘It’s a great opportunity’

Jean LeBlanc, president of La Société Héritage Saint Bernard, which is partnering with Nation Prospère Acadie, said the society was put in contact with the group about two weeks ago, after the real estate listing came down.

“So, since that time, we’ve been working together, well, they’ve been doing most of the work to put this campaign together to save the church,” LeBlanc said. 

“It’s a great opportunity to fix up the building to use it for something in the community. The group seems really interested in preserving the building.”

LeBlanc said the society will promote the campaign and will approach potential funders to help out.

“If there’s a new roof on the building, it will be good for another 40, 50 years, no problem,” LeBlanc said. “The granite is not going to go anywhere. Once the plumbing is repaired and the electrical is repaired, the people could start going in again.”

Cyr said there are also no conditions from Nation Prospère Acadie that the building be saved and preserved to function as a church. He added that with community input,”anything is possible” for the future of Saint Bernard.

“From a community point of view, not only is the project certainly well worth it, but from a moral point of view, why not give it one last valiant effort,” Cyr said.

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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