Mixed feel­ings in Har­bour Grace about for­mer church’s fu­ture

Prospect of jobs ex­cites some res­i­dents, oth­ers dis­ap­pointed in Ro­man Catholic dio­cese

The Compass - - Front Page - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON

There are dif­fer­ent ways to look at the Yel­low­belly Brew­ery own­ers’ re­cent pur­chase of the for­mer Catholic church in Har­bour Grace, judg­ing from what a few res­i­dents had to say when ap­proached by The Com­pass about the topic.

It may be a for­gone con­clu­sion that any talk of new jobs in the Con­cep­tion Bay North com­mu­nity will be warmly greeted. Over the last two decades, Har­bour Grace has lost a boot fac­tory, gro­cery store, liquor store and Cana­dian Tire store. The new own­ers, Craig Flynn and Brenda O’Reilly, plan to con­vert the struc­ture into a brew­ery, beer gar­den, spa and ho­tel.

But for those with an at­tach­ment to the for­mer Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion Church, which the Ro­man Catholic Dio­cese of Grand Falls closed in 2014, there’s a feel­ing of loss.

Larry O’Shea falls into that cat­e­gory. He was a par­ish­ioner for many years at the church and still has strong faith. The build­ing’s sale gives him no plea­sure.

“I think the church hi­er­ar­chy has failed the con­gre­ga­tion in re­gard to clos­ing such a build­ing that could house I would say all the needs of the parish­ioners who are ac­tive,” O’Shea told The Com­pass just out­side the town’s post of­fice. “And some would ar­gue those num­bers have fallen and the sup­port is not there. I would ar­gue the church in gov­er­nance should foot the bill. Fail­ing to do that, they’re fail­ing the parish­ioners.”

The bill in ques­tion for restora­tion of the 126-year-old struc­ture is con­sid­er­able. A 2013 en­gi­neer­ing as­sess­ment es­ti­mated the cost to com­plete restora­tion work would be $9 mil­lion, with the cost es­ca­lat­ing over time. Be­tween 1988 and 2014, $3 mil­lion was spent on restora­tion work.

Con­structed in 1892 in a Gothic Re­vival style, the build­ing uti­lizes stone walls. The Her­itage Foun­da­tion of New­found­land and Labrador des­ig­nated the build­ing as a reg­is­tered her­itage struc­ture in 1990.

Oth­ers The Com­pass spoke with last week were far more re­cep­tive to the new own­ers’ plans for the build­ing. Di­ane Rees be­lieves it will im­prove the town’s eco­nomic for­tunes and ul­ti­mately en­sure the for­mer church has a fu­ture.

“I think it will con­serve the build­ing it­self in­stead of it fall­ing down into dis­re­pair, so I think it’s a re­ally good idea,” she said.

Mar­cel Me­lan­son agreed. “What­ever it take to save it,” he said. “They do this sort of thing on the main­land all over the place. In Que­bec there’s lot of (re­pur­posed churches) and they might as well be do­ing it here too.”

“I think the church hi­er­ar­chy has failed the con­gre­ga­tion in re­gard to clos­ing such a build­ing that could house I would say all the needs of the parish­ioners who are ac­tive.”

— Larry O’Shea

He also stressed the im­por­tance of the project to the town it­self, which has also at­tracted the at­ten­tion of en­trepreneurs look­ing at the for­mer boot fac­tory as a po­ten­tial site for a cannabis grow-op.

“We need some­thing here,” Me­lan­son said, not­ing there isn’t much eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in the com­mu­nity be­yond busi­ness cen­tral­ized around the har­bour. “Who knows? Maybe the mar­i­juana thing at the boot com­pany (will work out). Jobs count. Maybe with this we’ll get a gro­cery store again.”

Peter Shep­pard said if the new own­ers’ vi­sion is re­al­ized, it will be good news for Har­bour Grace.

“It’s pos­i­tive for the town, and I guess a lot of peo­ple who are stoic Ro­man Catholics don’t like the idea, but the world is chang­ing,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we don’t agree with or like, but it’s just the way things are this day and age.

“It can cre­ate work and bring new fam­i­lies into Har­bour Grace and this area, keep some of our young peo­ple here in the area so they can par­take in the town’s ac­tiv­i­ties. I think it’s great.”

At its most re­cent reg­u­lar meet­ing held Mon­day, Oct. 22, Har­bour Grace coun­cil voted unan­i­mously to ap­prove the new own­ers’ busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tion for the prop­erty.

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON — THE COM­PASS

The for­mer Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion cathe­dral is the talk of the town in Har­bour Grace since word got out that the own­ers of the Yel­low­belly Brew­ery have pur­chased the 126-year-old struc­ture.

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