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This article first appeared in the September 27, 2017 issue of the The Low Down to Hull and Back News.External Link Reprinted with permission. Search complete list of Low Down Articles.

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Raising the roof to bring new life to St. Stephen's

By Ben Bulmer

St. Stephen's Church
St. Stephen's Church in Chelsea has tremendous architectural value, according to the lead architect on the project to get a new roof on the century-and-a-half old building. File photo.

Having your roof replaced is seen as one of the necessary evils of homeownership - expensive, and not exactly flashy. But when your building is over 150 years old, must maintain its original style to qualify for government grants, and is seen as a pillar of the community, a roof replacement becomes a lot more expensive and a lot more complicated.

Chelsea's St. Stephen's Church is scheduled to have a new roof installed in the new year after securing a provincial grant of $168,336 in March 2016. The parish of St. Stephens has held a major fundraising campaign, raising $43,000 from the community so the work can go ahead.

"The church has great architectural value in its authenticity," said the project's lead architect, Jean Damecour. "It hasn't been modified. That gives it great value. Secondly, it has the presbytery and the attending buildings next to it, so these elements of context give it an even greater value." Hills residents may recognize the importance of the Old Chelsea church as a historical structure in the community, but Damecour reiterates the church's architectural importance over that of many similar churches because of its surroundings and lack of modification. "It's rare to find an authentic church...when you walk in you get a feeling it's not just a special church - it's a special place." But ensuring that the refurbishment is authentic and respects the original style is no easy feat.

"The important thing is to get to know your subject," said Damecour. The Sainte- Marguerite based architect said solutions have to consider the technical, the financial, and the historical aspects: "You have to get that blend."

St. Stephen's Church
drawings of the renovation plans. Photo courtesy Jean Damecour.

Searching through the archives didn't produce a definitive confirmation of what the original roof was made of - it would have been steel batten or cedar shingle - nor how it looked.

The current roof is only a couple of decades old, but the replacement should be set to last for a century or more. Damecour said the new roof will be steel batten - think Château Frontenac, but in steel rather than copper.

It might sound like a simple solution, but the steps involved, said Damecour, are far more complicated than most would think. "The roof has to respect the church," he said, and that's a lot harder than one might think.

The rest of the building is in remarkably good shape, and if taken care of will continue to be a pillar of the community for another 150 years. Construction is due to start in the spring of 2018.