Mission accomplished! Chalmers-Wesley restoration project is completed

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Photo: Shirley Nadeau

Grant McConnell, Howard Davidson and Peter W. Webster stand proudly before the donor recognition plaque, which was unveiled at the closing ceremony of Chalmers-Wesley's two-year long restoration campaign.

Seventeen years after beginning an overall restoration of their church home, the members of Chalmers-Wesley United Church can finally say, "Mission accomplished!"

The final phase of the entire project, restoration of the church's 177-foot-high steeple (which consists of the masonry tower and the metal-covered spire) was completed in late October this year. On November 27, a ceremony that included special guests was held at the church to mark the closing of the Major Fundraising Campaign (2010-2012).

Over the past two years the internal wooden structure supporting the spire of the church has been repaired and the spire itself re-covered with stainless steel. In addition, over 200 stones in the masonry tower have been replaced, each one cut to a specific size and shape.

Grant McConnell, Co-chair of the fundraising committee, gave a summary of the overall restoration of the building starting in 1995, when the congregation realized they either had to do something to preserve their building or risk having it fall down about them. With the help of grants from the Conseil du patrimoine religieux, the Ville de Québec, the R. Howard Webster Foundation and gifts from many, many other generous foundations and individuals, a total of some $3,000,000 in work has been done since then to restore the building to its former glory.

Speakers during the closing ceremony were: Michelle Morin-Doyle, Deputy Mayor of Quebec City; Rémy Gagnon, President of the Table de concertation, Québec-Chaudière-Appalaches du Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec; and Louis Germain, President of the Comité des citoyens du Vieux-Québec.

Gagnon praised the members of the congregation, and the Campaign Cabinet in particular, for their dedication to preserving this almost 170-year-old church and the religious and architectural heritage it embodies.

With its soaring spire, Germain said Chalmers-Wesley was one of a trinity - the three tallest and most recognized buildings in Old Quebec City, along with the Chateau Frontenac and the Price Building. The church is home to two congregations of the United Church of Canada: Chalmers-Wesley (Anglophone) and, since 1987, Saint-Pierre (Francophone).

Peter W. Webster, President of the Honorary Committee of the fundraising campaign and Chair of the R. Howard Webster Foundation, said he had fond memories of going to Sunday School and growing up in this church, where he was baptised.

The Webster family stained-glass window was transferred (along with five other windows) to Chalmers Church in 1931 when the members of the former Wesley Church (now the Institut Canadien) merged with that of Chalmers and the church was renamed Chalmers-Wesley United Church. Both churches had become part of the newly-inaugurated United Church of Canada in 1925.

Jacquelin Rochette, former music director of Chalmers-Wesley (1980-1987) and now Artistic Director of the world-renowned organ builders Casavant Frères, spoke about the history of the organ. He then played a stirring rendition of Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor on Chalmers-Wesley's magnificent organ, which was partly restored by Casavant Frères.

Rochette put off an engagement at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, where another great Casavant organ is being installed, in order to be present in Quebec City for this closing ceremony. Rochette founded the church's Summer Organ Concert series, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year.

At the end of the ceremony, a plaque listing donors' names was unveiled and a prayer of dedication was given by Dr. James de Burgh Wetherall, minister of Chalmers-Wesley.
Members of the Honorary Committee were: Peter W. Webster (Chair), Nancy Webster McFadyen, Howard Davidson, Luc Noppen, William Boden, Jacques Joli-Coeur, Evan Price, Ross Rourke, Glenn Rourke and Stuart Wright. Members of the Campaign Cabinet were: David Baker and Grant McConnell (Co-Chairs), Rev. Eleanore and Rev. James Johanson, Jeanne Delany-Chambers, Brian Skidmore, Joan Shea, Michael Ayre, Andrew Coutts, Carol and David Bircher, David Rourke, Shirley Nadeau and Marion Cabanac.

*To hear the CBC Radio interview by Peter Tarrdif about the restoration project, go to http://www.cbc.ca/breakaway/