Historical churches get modern fix

St. Paul’s Anglican Church is preparing to launch a major fundraising campaign.

Archdeacon Brian Evans of St. Paul’s Anglican Church stands in front of the stained glass windows in the historic downtown church. Evans

Archdeacon Brian Evans of St. Paul’s Anglican Church stands in front of the stained glass windows in the historic downtown church. Evans

St. Paul’s Anglican Church is on a new mission – expansion.

The historic church is preparing to launch a major fundraising campaign this year to create a new Centre for Ministry and Community Service.

For decades, the parish on the corner of Church and Chapel streets downtown has served its congregation and offered hall space for community groups to meet.

Now, with the hall needing major renovations, church members are looking to create a larger, more universally-accessible meeting space and rebrand it as a community facility.

The work, estimated to cost more than $3 million, follows on the heels of roof repairs as well as efforts by other long-standing churches to preserve their own buildings as local landmarks, including St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church and St. Andrew’s United.

“It’s very exciting,” said Archdeacon Brian Evans of the rebuild. “Hopefully we are able to raise all the funds required and we will be moving ahead in the very near future.”

St. Paul’s is among a trio of historic churches whose members are working to ensure the buildings remain local landmarks and community gathering places.

St. Paul’s has roots stretching back 152 years into the history of the Harbour City. In June 1862 the doors of its first building opened – a beautiful wooden edifice with a tall, graceful spire ships could see as they entered the harbour, say records kept by the church.

When a fire in Nanaimo’s business district razed the building, a new concrete hall and church was built in the early 1930s. Not many people know the site was the birthplace of the Loaves and Fishes Food Bank or that it harbours stained glass windows in memory of prominent figures like Nanaimo’s first mayor, according to Evans.

But the church’s history has caught up with it. Leaks had been damaging the integrity of the building, prompting a $300,000 re-roofing project last year and now the church’s parish hall needs a major face lift, from electrical work to new insulation.

Other historic churches are also undergoing revitalization work.

St. Andrew’s United, a 121-year-old building on the corner of Fitzwilliam and Wesley streets, started in 2010 to generate $750,000 needed to repair and renovate the church. New metal shingles have been put on the roof, and the church hall has a new ceiling, paint and wood work. Members are now looking to expand the choir loft and repair a floor that’s in bad shape, according to property manager Gaylord Merkel.

“It’s such a big building … but we are keeping it together so far,” he said.

Members of St. Peter’s, on Machleary Street, are slowly chipping away at their renovations, including redoing the bell tower and ensuring Big Frank – a clock that’s chimed since Nanaimo’s early coal mining days – continued to tick.

“Slowly we are trying to maintain the building itself. I mean it’s a landmark here in town … and a lot of the families that have helped to build Nanaimo were members of this church,” said Debbie McMillan, St. Peter’s administrative assistant.