Port au Port West heritage church restoration funds getting low

Frank
Frank Gale
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Paul (Pun) Cornect puts a brace in place during work on restoration of the front columns on Our Lady of Mercy Heritage Church in Port au Port West.

Paul (Pun) Cornect takes pride in working on the restoration of a building that began a full century ago.

He and Lonny White are restoring the columns on the front of the building. They’re also replacing rot that was found between the top of the doors at the centre of the church up to a large window several metres above.

“It’s a slow process because of the amount of rot we’ve encountered with lots of ups and downs on the scaffolding, but we are making progress,” Cornect said of the project, which has already seen two columns refurbished. The third is now being completed.

As an example of trouble they ran into, Cornect said below the large window they had to replace a double, six-inch by six-inch beam, 14-feet in length that had rotted from one end to the other.

“That’s done now and it’s a big improvement and coming along well,” he added.

Kathleen Lawlor, vice-chair of the Gravels Development Group Inc. said the structure was built out of wood, so things have deteriorated. The development group has leased the property and is responsible for maintaining the Our Lady of Mercy Complex, including the church that saw construction begin in 1914.  

There was restoration of the front part of the building in 1974, and now 40 years later with the church celebrating its 100th anniversary.

The development group has raised and spent about $60,000 on completing one-third of the roof, refurbishing the washrooms and now getting the work on the front completed.

A donated second-hand furnace is helping to provide some heat, but there’s continuous maintenance.

Lawlor said people have been generous in helping out in memory of their loved ones, along with some who worked on the facility in the past.

“We’re at the point now where we’re hoping to have enough money to complete the column that’s being worked on, but we’re quickly running out of funds,” she said.

The irony is that a building, which was completely constructed by volunteers, can’t have volunteers work on it today because of building regulations, Lawlor said.

A church this size was meant to accommodate the population of what was the second city in Newfoundland at the time, when the Aguathuna limestone quarry opened in 1910 and 500 men working in the mines.

The main structure was built from donated lumber that was locally cut, with most of it coming from West Bay and the Fox Island River-Point au Mal area.

All able-bodied men donated a minimum of two weeks of work a year. When the limestone quarry had sufficient ore to be shipped out, mine operator Arthur House would send his crews to work on the church. These were men from different parts of the island who had various skills, making the church a true sample of Newfoundland workmanship.

The Gravels Development Group Inc. is now appealing to people to donate towards the restoration and take on more work in the future. Donations can be forwarded to Our Lady of Mercy Restoration Fund, c/o Lorna Snow, P.O. Box 40, Aguathuna, NL, A0N 1A0.

Centennial celebrations for the church will take place during the weekend of Aug. 29-31, with activities to be announced at a later date.

Twitter: WS_FrankGale

Organizations: Group Inc., Arthur House, Mercy Restoration Fund

Geographic location: Port au Port West, Newfoundland, West Bay Fox Island River Point au Mal

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