Fire dev­as­tates Western Bay church

Au­thor­i­ties sus­pect ar­son, seek­ing pub­lic as­sis­tance

The Compass - - ORTHTE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER THE COM­PASS

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.

The fire

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.”

Long process

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.

nmercer@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Photo by Ni­cholas Mercer/the Com­pass

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.

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