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This article first appeared in the February 27, 2013 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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Low residents congregate for St. Martin's church rectory reno mission

By Matt Harrison

The race is on. Low residents are congregating to save the St. Martin's church rectory, and - if possible - the barn, too.

But they have only nine months to prove to the parish and themselves that it's not only possible to resurrect the deteriorating buildings, but to show it's actually something the community wants, according to a presentation in the municipality Feb. 24.

The 120-year-old rectory - which neighbours St. Martin's parish about eight kms down Martindale Road off Hwy 105 - used to house the parish's Catholic priests. However, the diocese closed the rectory in the 1970s due to a dwindling congregation, better transportation in the region, and financial cutbacks. The building, as well as the neighbouring barn, has since deteriorated.

John Edwards, a member of the Save St. Martin's Rectory committee, led a presentation that outlined a plan for the building's restoration and future use to a group of 40-50 people at the Heritage Hall in Low.

St. Martin's church rectory
Low residents are rallying to try and save the St. Martin's church rectory and barn. Photo courtesy Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Quebec.

The plan involves turning the rectory into a multi-purpose venue, where its primary use would be as a Irish cultural heritage centre (Irish settlers arrived to the area in the early 1800s; Low also boasts the second- largest Celtic cross in Eastern Canada), as well as a place to hold weddings, baptismal celebrations, funerals, and musical evenings. Given the cost in heating the large and poorly insulated building, its use would be restricted to warmer months of the year.

The plan involves a longterm rental lease of the rectory from the parish at a minimal cost. A non-profit corporation would be created to look after the rectory and to manage any revenue generated by activities held there.

plan - really a business proposal - has been formulated during the past three months by the newly formed committee. In that time, the group has had the opportunity to study what renovations would be required.

So far, they have determined that, in spite of "superficial deterioration," the rectory is "structurally sound," according to the committee.

Already some debris has been removed and some smaller steps have been taken to insure more damage to the rectory won't occur during the decisionmaking process.

The committee also said it believes that the renovations, which have yet to be specifically determined, can be done at minimal cost, based on the committee's survey of the property.

Meanwhile, the neighbouring barn, deemed a "lovely structure," is suffering from a partially rotted roof, and its framework may have been compromised by a degree of sinking and shifting over the years, at least according to an insurance company's findings in 1998.

Even so, the committee remains hopeful about their ability to save the barn.

"We believe it's worth saving, if it can be saved," said Edwards on behalf of the committee.

Much has already been done in the three months since the committee was formed. However, that leaves just nine months for the community to mull over the committee plan, fine-tune it, and determine whether or not this is something Low really wants.

"Let me be clear," said Edwards, "this will in no way fly unless there is strong evidence that the community is, indeed, behind it - not just with words, but with labour and with money."

Obviously, there is interest in saving the rectory, as evidenced by the number of people at the meeting; however, some did express concern, even confusion, over the proposal.

One challenge any future use will face - as both the committee and the community pointed out - is that the church and the rectory are not on a major road, which will reduce drop-in traffic and require a great deal of publicizing in order to draw people to the site.

Edwards pointed out, however, that its more quiet, tranquil setting may actually be an attraction, especially for those looking to hold retreats.

There was also confusion regarding who actually owns the land.

"In theory," said Edwards, "the church, rectory, and cemetery are owned by the parish." Yet, the legal documentation to prove this has not yet been found, although the process of determining is ongoing by the diocese, he added.

One idea put forward was to use the rectory to house the community's historical documentation, which is in danger of deteriorating or being lost.

Edwards agreed that the archival material is worth saving and needs proper storage, but cautioned that he "wouldn't want to see the whole rectory become a museum."

"The Quebec government seems to be resisting the term museum," said Edwards. "We've even been advised to leave that word out of the proposal. They seem to think of it as something housing dead material."

Before the committee submits its refined proposal in November, there are plans for at least two open houses, and another follow-up discussion with the community as early as June.

The committee's plans come on the heels of last year's proposal by Carolyn Kidder and Louise Schnubb, who expressed interest in restoring the rectory perhaps to turn it into a bed and breakfast, an archive, or a reception area.

However, their proposal was denied by churchwardens in February, 2012.