Fire devastates Western Bay church
Authorities suspect arson, seeking public assistance
A piece of Western Bay history was lost last week when a nearly 140-year-old church was destroyed in a suspicious early morning fire.
Residents in the Conception Bay North community were awaken the morning of Sept. 25 to find the North Side United Church, one of the first Methodist churches to appe a r o n t h e n o r t h s h o re , engulfed in flames.
When the fire finally subsided, the entire building had been destroyed.
“It’s devastating,” North Shore Regional Development Board vicechairman Guy Bishop told The Compass.
The development board was in the midst of an 11-week renovation project on the 138-year-old wooden structure.
“We only had four weeks to go,” he stated. “We had just completed the roof and were going to start on the inside.
“We were 70 per cent through t h e p r o j e c t a n d somebody destroyed it.”
Plenty of history
The building was not the only thing lost in the fire.
Sharon Pottle, secretary for the development board, said “There was $10,000 worth of materials on the inside and we had already spent $12,000 on construction,” she said.
Overall, the group figures some $ 70,000 had been poured into restoring the church to its original glory.
Much of the wood inside the church was the original lumber used to build the structure. The pews and the pulpit were also original.
“There was a lot of history in the building,” said Bishop.
Probably the most tragic loss was the tomes of Christian literature found in the building.
Bishop figures there were a number of historical texts lost, including a large copy of the Bible, which could be the church’s original copy.
“It’s quite heartbreaking just to look at it,” said Pottle. “To see a building that was so old and there for so many years … and now it’s gone.”
The development board, who in the past have restored properties like the two school houses in Broad Cove, have to now pick up the pieces and attempt to move forward with other projects.
“That building will never be replaced,” said Pottle.
The group did not have insurance on the building.
Bishop received word at 3:44 a.m. that the church was on fire. By the time he arrived, the North Shore Volunteer Fire Department was already fighting the blaze.
“When I drove by on the way to the station, the church was completely engulfed in flame,” said Chief Roger Gillingham.
By the time the crew was finished battling the fire, Gillingham said there was “very little left of the building.”
The chief said there was little danger to the houses surrounding the church, and the department only had to hose down one other building as a precaution.
The fire occurred under suspicious circumstances, say police.
There was no electricity supplied to the site, eliminating electrical as a cause.
Workers on the project smoked outside of the church, said Bishop, and any cof fee pots used were plugged into the generator, which was also outside.
“We had plywood across the back window and it was removed,” said Bishop. “The fire definitely started in the back.”
The restoration of the project has been in the works since 2004, when Bishop and the rest of the development board made their first attempt at receiving heritage status.
Obtaining heritage status would have allowed for the group to receive funding needed to restore the church.
Five years after the first attempt to get the status, the church was designated a heritage site in 2009.
Bishop surmises the church was one of the first Methodist churches to appear on the North Shore in the late 19th century and was more than a church.
“It was used as a funeral home, Sunday school and a school house,” he said.
Before the development board purchased the building, the church was owned by Trufenia Green.
The group did have plans to turn the church into a library and museum, but those have gone by the wayside in the face of the tragic circumstances surrounding the destruction of the church.
“We talked this morning that maybe in the spring, putting a park there and putting up a monument to Ms. Green,” said Pottle.
Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Trinity Conception District RCMP at 5965014.
What’s left of the North Side United Church in Western Bay after fire decimated the 138 year-old structure in the early morning of Sept. 25.