Fresh start for Heart’s Content church
Funds to convert historic structure into community arts centre
Describing the experience of entering the former Heyfield United Memorial Church in Heart’s Content, Claude Rockwood likens it to “stepping into the walls of a wedding cake.”
Indeed, its beautiful white walls and ceiling are filled with intricate patterns — certainly the sort fit to adorn a post-nuptials themed cake.
Rockwood, president of the Mizzen Heritage Society in Heart’s Content, is among those who’ve dedicated years of volunteer work to protecting the waterfront property, which was completed in 1878.
Now that hard work is really starting to pay off for the organization. Last week, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency announced it would contribute more than $153,000 to spruce up the 137-year-old structure. That’s on top of a $143,000 contribution from the provincial government announced in January. The heritage society intends to turn the building into a community arts centre capable of hosting musical performances, dinner theatre, workshops and coffee house events.
Named after Rev. Jesse Heyfield, who was the local minister when it was completed in 1878, the church was closed in 2009. According to society vice-president John Warren, people in the community were immediately concerned about its future.
“When we heard that the church was slated to be demolished — and it’s such an important part of our community — I think the first thing (we thought) was to save it,” he told The Compass standing inside the confines of the church.
Different ideas were tossed around, and the group eventually settled on the community arts centre proposal.
“That seemed like a thing to draw people here, especially tourists and visitors,” explained Rockwood.
At one time there were two churches in the community with origins dating back to the late-19th century. However, the original St. Mary’s Anglican Church was destroyed by fire in 1989.
Heart’s Content’s position in Newfoundland and Labrador as a place with notable heritage appeal is well documented. Home of the Heart’s Content Cable Station and over a dozen other properties of historic interest, the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador (HFNL) granted the community a registered heritage district designation in 2013. The church is also a HFNL registered heritage structure, with the church and neighbouring cemetery classified as a municipal heritage site.
The heritage society agreed to purchase the building for $1 in 2011. It also owns the former Methodist school house, now converted into a community museum.
In addition to government funding, HFNL has contributed $30,000 towards the community arts centre project. Residents past and present have donated approximately the same amount of money, and a further $8,000 has been raised through coffee house events.
In terms of work on the structure itself, windows will be restored and renowned woodworker Mike Patterson will build a new main door that’s in keeping with the church’s Gothic Revival architectural style. A kitchen and social room will be set up in the basement, stairs and a bathroom will be installed, and the roof will be repaired.
Exposed rock is visible along the walls of the basement. Rockwood hopes insulation can be installed from the outside in order to maintain that visage. If plans to hold dinner theatre events hold true, the pews will also need to be moved.
The society hopes to see work start this April and clew up in October. Rockwood and Warren would like to see the building used to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first successful landing of a transatlantic telegraph cable linking North America and Europe. Heart’s Content was the site of that historic event in 1866. The community continued to play an important part in transatlantic communications for several decades thereafter.
This photo of Heyfield Memorial United Church was taken in 1923.
John Warren, left, and Claude Rockwood were both heavily involved in volunteer work that helped the Mizzen Heritage Society in Heart’s Content secure over $350,000 through government funding and donations.
A view of what’s inside the walls of the former Heyfield Memorial United Church in Heart’s Content.