Tre?s-Saint-Nom-de-Jesus is a dilapidated, old and rundown church. It’s so unwanted, even the Archdiocese of Montreal has no interest in keeping it open. With reported annual costs of over $100,000 spent just on heating the Casavant organ, the church was closed by the fire department in June 2009. The costs of just demolishing the church are estimated at close to $1 million, not including the removal of the organ.
The Quebec government recently announced that it would grant $18.6 million towards restoring churches across the province. However, culture minister Christine St-Pierre has placed no funds towards the repairs desperately needed by this Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district church, while money has been earmarked for functioning churches.
Nevertheless, a small group of citizens, led by borough mayor Re?al Me?nard, are fighting to keep the building open. They argue that the building should be turned into a performance centre, where the organ can continue to be used and cared for, a cause that has united organists and citizens from the community.
As much as the Casavant organ is a treasure of provincial history, it is unfortunately in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Maybe it is time to accept that, and move on. But it must dawn on us all that a significant slice of our history might be demolished. The Tre?s- Saint is not the only old church in the news, as it was announced that the storied Anglican St. James United Church on Ste-Catherine will require millions of dollars in provincial and federal funding to keep from falling apart.
Some have questioned the culture minister’s motivation for the restoration of churches, leading to the wider question of the separation of church and state.
The government has its own motivations, of course, and a possible reason for allocating the not-so-extravagant amount of money towards the restoration of churches is to increase Quebec tourism. Religious tourism is reportedly an $18 billion industry, and Quebec is long overdue in getting its share of the tourists. With the canonization of the Brother Andre? just around the corner, the pious around the world will soon have another reason to come to Quebec.
The Oratory itself receives over two million visitors every year and the Notre-Dame Basilica gets close to 700,000. The province has scores of chapels, pilgrimage sites, and churches. Even Mark Twain once noted of Montreal that you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window.
Pierre Bellerose, vice-president of Tourism Montreal, agreed that the province has focused less on the spiritual elements of the province, in favour of the city’s vibrant festival scene. Regardless of the separation of church and state, when it comes down to it, Quebec needs to protect its heritage. Although the Roman Catholic Church is no longer the voice it used be, it still is a vibrant piece of this province’s heritage. Nobody would argue that Notre-Dame Basilica downtown isn’t a tourist site. In fact, some fervent Catholics believe it’s more of a tourist attraction and performance centre than an actual church. Still, the city and province need to protect all aspects of their culture, including language, schools and churches. Notre patrimoine, notre histoire.