Progress in Petites

Work un­der­way on Bethany United Church

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROSALYN ROY Rosalyn.roy@gulfnews.ca Twit­ter: @tyger­lylly

PETITES, NL – If hard work is in­deed good for the soul then John and Ju­lia Breck­en­ridge must have healthy ones in­deed.

The On­tario cou­ple, who are per­ma­nent vis­i­tors to New­found­land and main­tain a cot­tage in Rose Blanche, are still in the process of restor­ing the Bethany United Church in the tiny and mostly aban­doned out­port of Petites.

Built around 1859 by the res­i­dents, the church is one of the old­est sur­viv­ing wooden churches in New­found­land. When the Breck­en­ridge’s first vis­ited the church sev­eral years ago the roof had just be­gun leak. John of­fered to re­pair it but was de­nied per­mis­sion by the church.

Af­ter a lengthy cor­re­spon­dence the Breck­en­ridge’s pur­chased the church and be­gan restora­tion ef­forts. The only res­i­dent left in Petites, Austin Ben­nett, reg­u­larly helps out with re­pairs.

Be­fore the days of night­clubs, restau­rants or movie the­atres and par­tic­u­larly in smaller com­mu­ni­ties, churches were used for much more than wor­ship. They pro­vided a so­cial meet­ing place for res­i­dents through events such as gar­den par­ties.

“This build­ing still binds them as per­haps it was the fo­cal point of vil­lage life,” said Ju­lia via email, who rel­ishes her dis­cov­ery of the com­mu­nity’s amaz­ing his­tory.

John and Ju­lia are do­ing what they can to save the church and have made progress. How­ever they are re­tired and the church still re­quires a sig­nif­i­cant amount of re­pair.

“The ocean side of the church now has its first coat of white paint,” said Ju­lia, but the lower seg­ment still needs to be com­pleted. Right now their top pri­or­ity is sta­bil­ity.

Around Septem­ber the plan is to ad­dress the foun­da­tion, hardly an easy task. Sup­port pil­lars and stone will have to be brought over by boat and they will re­quire phys­i­cal help from some­one with ex­per­tise about what needs to be done.

For the cou­ple the project is a labour of love.

“This is a new ad­ven­ture in our lives and it feels good,” ac­cord­ing to Ju­lia.

How­ever it can’t con­tinue in­def­i­nitely. Ju­lia says that within the next five years the plan is to cede ownership of the church to some­one who feels as pas­sion­ate about it as they do. She be­lieves there is a lot of tourist po­ten­tial for a savvy en­tre­pre­neur, and has even heard ru­mours that some­one may be pur­su­ing that idea al­ready.

“As tourism grows it is a per­fect place to have this as a des­ti­na­tion,” said Ju­lia, who has an­other sug­ges­tion too.

One idea in­volves an ex­treme trekking ex­cur­sion from Har­bour Le Cou to Rose Blanche. Hik­ers could visit the church to rest and take shel­ter be­fore re­turn­ing to Rose Blanche. Ju­lia said she even has notes from trekkers who have made such a trip.

“We are search­ing for ideas to try and bring back to the world the vil­lage of Petites so part of it will con­tinue to sur­vive,” she said.

Those who wish to fol­low the restora­tion progress or donate time and labour to the church’s restora­tion may do so via Face­book on the Petites Church New­found­land: Restora­tion page.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF JU­LIA BRECK­EN­RIDGE

Im­prove­ments have clearly been made to the Bethany United Church but there’s still much more work to be done be­fore the church can be con­sid­ered fully re­stored.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF JU­LIA BRECK­EN­RIDGE

John Breck­en­ridge (pic­tured) stands in the Bethany United Church in Petites prior to un­der­tak­ing its restora­tion.

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