Sunday, June 21, 2009

dueling giant churches


'road warrior,' my herald travel column, made its debut today, grabbing a nice piece of real estate on page 3. this first article is from my day in joggins exploring the 300 million year old cliffs. next week should be tatamagouche, visiting a buddhist militia, a literary pub and, of course, the train station inn. week three is up in the air, as my planned event was derailed. i'm trying to sneak into the diefenbunker near truro: fingers crossed...

i've just got back from the second leg of the trip, exploring the french shore. the first article will be about an amazing acadian artist i met at the belliveau cove farmer's market - she lives a rustic life with her husband and two kids in a one-room cabin down by the river - but i was disappointed to run out of word count before i could write about the astounding church battle at church point/st bernard.

in 1903, the people of church point decided it was time to erect a monster church. in two years, with the help of 1,500 volunteers, the giant sprung up on the pretty coast line. it was built, amazingly, by one leo melanson: an illiterate carpenter who had never built a church before, let alone the biggest on the continent. they wanted a stone church, but the cost scuppered those plans. it's still (according to its sign) the biggest wooden church in north america.

i marvelled at this city-centre cathedral miles from any city and then took a wander down the road. a short drive later, i was face to face with st bernard, a stone monster rearing out of the quiet landscape. it was started five years after the completion of church point's big boy - and, as you can see, made out of stone. this giant took 32 years to build, with parishioners erecting level after level as they got together enough money and brought in enough stone (which came 120 miles from shelbourne by train and oxen).


the two churches (both catholic) are within eyesight of each other - i can only imagine the 32-year story that unfolded as church point was slowly dwarfed.

strange, too, is the condition of the houses around the twins - i had noticed many short a coat of paint and slowly tumbling into the ground, yet the churches are in gorgeous shape. i was musing about the folly of humanity, but my acadian artist friend suggested they were built out of good pride: a chance for the people of the area to show the world what they could do.
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