By Keith Maryanovich
Centreville, citizens have crowned the tower on the old United Church on Trout Cove road in Digby C0unty.
“It is called a ‘finial’,” said Pat Pickering, who owns the church with his wife Jannett. “It is the cone for the top of the steeple.”
A crew from Nova Scotia Power used a “cherrypicker” to reach the top of the 55-foot steeple and screw the metal cone in place. The crew was coming to hook up power to the church anyway, but would probably have only needed a regular van.
It took several hours of work in -18ºC windchill to get the cone into place. Nova Scotia Power donated the use of the cherrypicker to help with the church renovations.
“There is no way we could have safely done this without them,” says Pat. “There is no way for anyone to climb up that steeple.”
Robbie Bay, who with Peter Tomlin, has done most of the work on the steeple so far, designed the finial from an old photograph.
Pickering says Bay had to think back to his high school trigonometry to figure out just how big to build the cone.
“We were afraid it wasn’t going to fit,” says Pickering. “There was no way to check. We had no way of knowing if it was too small or the wrong shape, but it fit just like a glove. It’s amazing.”
Bay made the finial out of a recycled bedknob and a piece of an old metal chalkboard from Bear River.
It is attached to the steeple with seven metal screws.
The linesmen told Pickering the screws all went into solid wood every time.
That’s because Bay and Tomlin spent about six weeks redoing the whole steeple inside and out, from top to bottom.
They replaced a good deal of the framing inside using mortise and tenon construction and reshingled the whole of the steeple.
They also added a ‘cricket’ or ‘saddle’ where the church roof meets the steeple—water had been getting in there, but the cricket is designed to divert water away from the steeple.
The finial, which seals the peak of the steeple, was the final piece of the first phase of restoring the 150-year-old church.
“That steeple is good now for another 165 years,” says Pat.
The Pickerings bought the church in 2011 and began restoring it this year. It had sat empty and boarded up since the 1970s.
It was Rob Hersey, heritage coordinator with the Municipality of the District of Digby, who recommended Bay and Tomlin for their knowledge and skill with church renovations in general, and mortise and tenon construction in particular.
Hersey also helped them apply for the municipality’s Heritage Church grants, which provides $1,000 a year for five years for municipally-registered churches.
The Pickerings estimate they have invested about $15,000 of their own money in the property, and there is still a ways to go yet.
The rest of the exterior needs reshingling. The stained-glass windows need work and the main floor needs to be lifted and re-supported.
The Pickerings are looking for advice from local musicians about renovations to the interior—where to put plugs and how to make the acoustics as good as possible.
“Now’s the time, before we start renovating the main church,” says Pat. “I really want to cater to the musicians, cause they’re the ones who are going to be providing the entertainment. If any of them want to stop in and chat, I’d really welcome that.”
Steve Bradley of South West Electrical has hooked up power and donated a large, 200-amp panel.
“With that we can run a few speakers,” says Pat. “And we might build a small outbuilding with washrooms.”
The Pickerings hope the community will use the church for community gatherings and for performances and they have formed an association to help gather support.
“It’s a beautiful community and the people are friendly,” says Pat. “We’re hoping the community will like the renovations and want to use the space. It’s a risk, but more and more people are stopping in to say they like what we’re doing.”
The Pickerings still have to clean and paint the interior and restore and stain the stage. They want to fix up the pews and make them removable
“But’s that’s next year,” says Pat.