By Stuart Benson
One of the oldest churches in the Outaouais, St. Andrew’s United Church in Cantley, was demolished May 26 upsetting many residents passionate about their municipality’s heritage.
St. Andrew’s, built in 1876 when James McClelland II donated a lot on the northwest corner of his farm to build the church, was one of the 20 oldest churches in the area and a landmark in Cantley for nearly 150 years.
The Mayor of Cantley Madeleine Brunette recognizes that the demolition of the church being done without notice or consultation has upset residents, but says the property was sold in 2015 in a private sale between the anglophone congregation and a private buyer, so the municipality had no obligation to post a notice of demolition.
“Our view is that the municipality did not have anything to do with the sale and was not consulted,” Brunette said, but she admits with hindsight things could have been done differently. “There should have been some conditions made before the sale, including the right of first purchase if the buyers ever did decide to demolish the building.”
Brunette said the private buyer had invested $200,000 to refurbish and install a well and septic tank on the property and had turned the building into a dance school, but unfortunately, due to lack of parking and distance from Gatineau, the dance school closed and the property put up for sale once again.
Brunette said that, while the property remained up for sale for nearly 24 months, no resident or organization approached the municipality to ask them to purchase the property.
"It breaks my heart, but the municipality can't buy them all [heritage properties]; we don't have the money nor the mandate,” explained Brunette. “We studied the possibility of moving the church onto municipal lands, but it would have cost $39,000.”
Brunette said that during the May council meeting, when it was learned that the church would be demolished, the council had a discussion about the possibility of purchasing another heritage church in Cantley, Église Ste-Elisabeth, if it were ever put up for sale.