Fresh start for Heart’s Con­tent church

Funds to con­vert his­toric struc­ture into com­mu­nity arts cen­tre

The Compass - - OPINION - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON edi­tor@CB­N­com­pass.ca

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.

His­tory abound

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.

Sub­mit­ted photo

This photo of Hey­field Me­mo­rial United Church was taken in 1923.

Photo by An­drew Robin­son/The Compass

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.

Photo by An­drew Robin­son/The Compass

A view of what’s in­side the walls of the for­mer Hey­field Me­mo­rial United Church in Heart’s Con­tent.

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