Montreal cathedral appeals for help to repair spire, meet other needs

Dean Paul Kennington of Christ Church Cathedral (left) welcomes Heritage Montreal policy director Dinu Bumbaru (third from left) to the interior of the cathedral’s clock tower to view the corrosion of its spire. On hand to explain the repairs needed are architects Lena Buchinger (second from left) and Giovanni Diodati from EVOQ Architecture. Photo: Henri Brillon
Dean Paul Kennington of Christ Church Cathedral (left) welcomes Heritage Montreal policy director Dinu Bumbaru (third from left) to the interior of the cathedral’s clock tower to view the corrosion of its spire. On hand to explain the repairs needed are architects Lena Buchinger (second from left) and Giovanni Diodati from EVOQ Architecture. Photo: Henri Brillon
By on July 27, 2016

Montreal’s Christ Church Cathedral faces financial challenges, as do other churches in Quebec, and its spire urgently needs work. However, an $8-million appeal to be launched publicly September 20 is about a lot more than that, says the dean and rector of the cathedral.

“This is bigger than us,” Dean Paul Kennington says.

Rental and investment income and congregational giving cover day-to-day operations, but the financial campaign is a one-time appeal to support “an extraordinary building” and meet needs “beyond the means of even the most robust parish.”

The challenge is not only to repair an aging building, he says. “We want to secure the cathedral’s future as the vital heart of the community and as an integral part of the fabric of Montreal and, indeed, of Quebec and Canada.”

Well over half the funds raised-$4.87 million-are to be used to rehabilitate the spire. To do this, architects have come up with an innovative plan, the third since the present cathedral opened in 1859.

In 1985, Christ Church Cathedral Montreal was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Photo: Massimiliano Pieraccini/Shutterstock
In 1985, Christ Church Cathedral Montreal was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Photo: Massimiliano Pieraccini/Shutterstock

Today’s spire looks like the stone structure of 1859-which was removed in 1927 because the church’s foundation had proved unable to bear the weight.

The cathedral had no spire from then until 1940, when a new one of aluminum panels mounted on a steel structure replicated the previous stone spire. That structure lasted through 1987-88, when the whole cathedral was, for a time, on a concrete slab supported by piles during construction of a shopping mall underneath the cathedral.

But in 2014, architects discovered that the structural steel members and rivet-and-bolt connections supporting the panels were badly corroded. The panels themselves are intact and will be reinstalled on a new structure.

In addition to the $4.87 million for the spire, the $8-million campaign budget includes:

? Almost $1.86 million for work on the exterior, roof, electrical system, heating and lighting.

?$744,000 to refurbish the interior.

?$180,000 to repair the organ and replace the concert piano.

?$100,000 for an elevator.

?$250,000 to endow social-service programs serving low-income people and others.

At least $1 million is to come from a Quebec government fund that supports the restoration of heritage churches. In addition, the fund-raising campaign will reach out to foundations, other sources and individuals in the broader community in a way that the dean says the cathedral has not done since 1879, and will not do again for another century or so. The cathedral also hopes to tap foundations and individuals no longer resident in Montreal but with bonds of affection.

Emblematic of that approach, campaign publicity emphasizes the cathedral’s involvement in the broader community through music and culture and through social services. The campaign chair, Bruce McNiven, a member of a prominent Montreal law firm, also reflects this approach. He does have family connections with the cathedral, but he was offered the post and accepted it primarily because of his deep commitment to architectural heritage.

 

Harvey Shepherd is former editor of the Montreal Anglican.

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