Gail Hancock, left, and Gerard Noseworthy are with the St. Stephen’s Church in Salvage Foundation and Restoration committee, working to preserve the oldest church on the Eastport Peninsula. The Anglican church began its construction in 1859 and is the fourth oldest wooden Anglican church in the province.
For the past few years the St. Stephen’s Church has suffered from an increasingly dilapidated foundation. After an assessment from an engineer in September, the church was deemed unsafe and closed.
From inside St. Stephen’s Church in Salvage.
Gail Hancock and Gerard Noseworthy hope repairs to the foundation St. Stephen’s Church’s can begin in the spring and the church can reopen to the congregation in June or July of next year.
From inside St. Stephen’s Church in Salvage.
A group of impassioned locals are working to preserve the oldest church on the Eastport Peninsula and one of the oldest Anglican churches in the province.
Construction on the towering white structure of St. Stephen’s Church in Salvage began in 1859 and the first baptism was held in 1861.
Along the main road of the outport community, with a clear view of the harbour and sea from its stained glass windows, the church is the fourth oldest wooden Anglican church in Newfoundland and Labrador.
For the past few years the status of the church’s foundation has been a growing concern for the congregation and other community members. After an engineer was called in to inspect the building in September, the structure was deemed unsafe and the engineer recommended the church be closed immediately.
It was then a committee was formed in hopes of ensuring a future for Salvage’s historic church and ancestral landmark.
“After the engineer went in and looked underneath, he said, ‘Lock the doors, no one’s getting in here’,” Eastport local and committee member Gerard Noseworthy said. “If we don’t make the effort to try and save it, it would likely be closed for good.”
The seven-member committee soon took to the task. With a history of over 500 weddings and over 200 baptisms, the church drew a lot of community support from the Eastport Peninsula, as well as from St. John’s, Gander and western Newfoundland.
“It stands as a living memorial to the builders and the forebearers who have maintained it,” Noseworthy said. “It was 153 years ago our ancestors built this place and came through here. People are spiritually attached to the church and emotionally attached to it.
“This is a big thing for the community.”
By mid-December the committee had already raised nearly $32,000, through donations, auctions, and planned events like a crafts and baked goods sale. Author Winston Philpott offered signed copies of his book Row Boat Robbers, the Salvage Bay Motel raised over $4,000 in a cold plate drive, and an anonymous American philanthropist donated $15,000 USD to the restoration fund on the agreement that the community match his contribution.
As the momentum and contributions grow, committee member Gail Hancock says it’s wonderful to see how many people have gotten behind the project.
It has also reinvigorated interest in the church itself, with an additional five people having joined the church membership since the restoration fund began.
“It was such a big undertaking, but we felt we had to try to do something and we did,” said Hancock. “It’s turned out wonderful. Raising over $32,000 on our own through the donations and few fundraisers we’ve had — people are over the moon.
“There’s people all over the world with connections to this church.”
Along with additional donations from canadahelps.org, Bishop John Watton and the Anglican Diocese of Central Newfoundland have also expressed their support.
Even six-year-old Alexis Tavenor of Eastport has done her part to preserve the 153-year-old church, contributing $20 to the restoration.
“She had $20 to buy books and she told her mother no, she wants to give it to the church,” Noseworthy said with a smile.
A tender of $55,000 to repair the church’s foundation was determined by a contractor brought on following the church’s closure. The committee aspires to have enough funds in place by early spring to begin the repair of the foundation. A new assessment of the foundation and tender will be done beforehand.
Noseworthy hopes the church will be open to the congregation again come June or July next year.
There are plans for future fundraisers through concerts, dances and even a possible polar dip along the cold Atlantic shore of Eastport beach. To donate and keep updated on St. Stephen’s Church in Salvage Restoration Fund, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/325254878051834/.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that an additional 15 people had joined the church membership since the restoration fund began. The actual increase in membership was five.