Halifax’s ’round church’ nears completion

Published April 1, 1999

The restored interior of St. George’s Church, Halifax shows the building’s classical lines. Originally there was a third gallery at the very top. The building, designed by Edward, Duke of Kent, was built in 1800.

More than 2,000 people have contributed to the restoration of St. George’s Church in Halifax in the last four years but more money is needed. Accompanying special thank you notes that have been sent to donors recently is a special request for further donations to help complete renovations to the fire-ravaged round church.

“We need to raise another $100,000 to complete our modified restoration plan,” said Anne West, chairwoman of the committee raising funds for the restoration of the Brunswick Street church.

“We’re really hoping to see that money in the bank by June 2, the fifth anniversary of the blaze.”

A Halifax landmark for more than 200 years, the church was gutted in 1994 when three young boys playing with matches in the church basement accidentally started a fire. Horrified parishioners watched from the front lawn as the blaze consumed the church. Within days, though, people were talking boldly about rebuilding.

By the end of February, the committee had raised $4.4 million, about half of which has come from federal, provincial and municipal governments, said Ms. West. The remainder has come from approximately 2,000 individuals and businesses, many of which have donated more than once.

“We’ve had phenomenal support from fellow Anglicans. We’ve been offered so many gifts, letters and prayers from Anglican churches across Canada and the United States,” she said. “Our parishioners alone have given over $260,000 which is amazing because we are a small parish.”

Restoration work was initially tagged at $6 million, but the parish has decided to delay the replacement of several items, including a chandelier, the bell and the east window, until a benefactor can be found to donate specifically to them.

To date, the entire church interior, including its distinctive dome, has been restored, with the exception of an upper section of a gallery which has been left open so visitors can see the huge beams of wood used in the reconstruction.

“It was God’s will the church be restored,” said rector Rev. Gary Thorne. “We have been part of the neighbourhood since 1756 and we were not about to abandon it.”

The rebuilding effort has brought the congregation closer together, he added, and has allowed both the community to embrace the church and the church to more fully embrace the community.

Though the fire consumed something that was very precious, the reconstruction effort has created special opportunities for the congregation that would have been impossible without the blaze, he said.

For example, because the new dome was built on the ground and before it was raised into place, children got an opportunity to draw pictures on it, he said.

“It’s a unique connection they will have with the church, a legacy that will last for the next couple of hundred years.”

A similar exercise was carried out with the wooden pegs that hold the dome in place, he added. Members of the congregation were invited to write their name and a prayer of inspiration on a peg before it was hammered into place.

The congregation held its first service in the church amid scaffolding and restoration work at Christmas 1995, but only returned to the church on a permanent basis at the end of 1996. The new pews were not installed until mid-1998.

The $100,000 the committee hopes to raise in the final leg of its fund-raising effort will be used to finish entryways, complete some painting and basement work, hang some memorials and create a donor recognition room, said Ms. West.

Although $18,000 of that has already been raised, only one painter and one or two carpenters are currently working in the church. No projects will be started until the money is in the bank to complete them, explained Ms. West.

“The bishop advised us not to borrow any money, and it’s the best advice we could have had,” she said. “We proceed on a low-key basis and we’ve come this far debt-free.”

Steve Proctor is a reporter for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald filing stories from the Truro bureau.


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