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New home for the Lord

The Son of God will stand a little taller in Morinville this week thanks to a new enclosure built as part of the renovations to the town’s biggest church. St. Jean Baptiste Church’s $500,000 renovation wraps up this week.
NEW HOUSE OF THE LORD — Don Ferguson stands by new enclosure he built for the icon of Jesus Christ at the St. Jean Baptiste Church in Morinville.
NEW HOUSE OF THE LORD — Don Ferguson stands by new enclosure he built for the icon of Jesus Christ at the St. Jean Baptiste Church in Morinville.

The Son of God will stand a little taller in Morinville this week thanks to a new enclosure built as part of the renovations to the town’s biggest church.

St. Jean Baptiste Church’s $500,000 renovation wraps up this week. The steel scaffolds and green screens that have surrounded it since May should start to come down Wednesday, and should be gone before the end of the month.

Crews had originally hoped to be done by the end of September, said site superintendent Don Ferguson of Delnor Construction, but they ran into some weather delays.

The roughly 106-year-old church is one of the town’s most iconic buildings and a provincial historic resource.

Church members sought to renovate the church last year to fix its cracking paint, swaying belfry, leaky steeple, cracked brick and mouldy roof. A town-wide fundraiser raised $349,393.62 for the project, which was bolstered by a $250,000 federal grant.

Crews replaced most of the shingles on the back of the church, Ferguson says, and many of them on the front. The church’s windows were repainted and re-caulked, with many getting a new plastic shield overtop them.

Much of the brick on the bell tower was removed so crews could check for rot, Fergusons says – they had to number each brick to ensure each was put back in the right place. The tower was rot-free, so they replaced the bricks and added a new waterproof membrane.

The tin structures atop the church all needed extensive repair, Ferguson says. Many were rusted, and some had bullet holes in them (reportedly from people shooting pigeons).

About 112 of the louvers (the metal slats on the bell tower) were so banged up that they had to be replaced, Ferguson notes. He asked Edmonton metal fabricator McKinley & Taylor to make new ones out of rustproof galvanized steel. The old louvers were given back to the congregation.

Crews sanded rust off the central cross and patched a bullet hole in it, Ferguson says. “The crosses on both of those (outer towers) were coming right apart,” he continues, and had to be welded back together.

The most challenging repairs were done to the eight pinnacles – those pagoda-like structures around the bell tower. “One of those that I brought down was so rusted that the top part broke off the bottom part,” Ferguson says. Another had an abandoned bird’s nest in it.

After spending half a day mulling over how to repair the structures, Ferguson says he simply lobbed them at McKinley & Taylor and said, “Fix it.” All eight pinnacles were removed, repaired and replaced.

Church-goers may notice two changes to the church once the scaffolding comes down, Ferguson says. First, crew-members have noticed that the paint they used seems to be extra sparkly, so the church should look very impressive in the light.

The second is the location of the golden statue of Jesus Christ, which is now about 10 centimetres higher than it was before.

Ferguson says he re-finished the statue and put a small stage under it to better centre it vertically. He also built a new enclosure for it that’s waterproof and sealed behind a plastic window.

Ferguson says his crew discovered a few bird skulls during construction, and spotted the almost-illegible initials of an old work crew that had been scratched into the steeple back in 1956. “I didn’t carve my name into anything,” he adds.

His favourite part of the renovation was the enclosure. “It was a labour of love to me,” says the Morinville resident, and something he hopes to look upon with pride in the future.

Father Ignacy Warias had high praise for the renovation work. “They did a fantastic job with the tin work and the painting,” he says. “It looks beautiful.”

The parish hoped to fix the church’s front steps this spring.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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