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Progress in Petites

Improvements have clearly been made to the Bethany United Church but there’s still much more work to be done before the church can be considered fully restored.
Improvements have clearly been made to the Bethany United Church but there’s still much more work to be done before the church can be considered fully restored.

If hard work is indeed good for the soul then John and Julia Breckenridge must have healthy ones indeed.

John Breckenridge (pictured) stands in the Bethany United Church in Petites prior to undertaking its restoration.

The Ontario couple, who are permanent visitors to Newfoundland and maintain a cottage in Rose Blanche, are still in the process of restoring the Bethany United Church in the tiny and mostly abandoned outport of Petites.

Built around 1859 by the residents, the church is one of the oldest surviving wooden churches in Newfoundland. When the Breckenridge’s first visited the church several years ago the roof had just begun leaking. John offered to repair it but was denied permission by the church.

After a lengthy correspondence the Breckenridge’s purchased the church and began restoration efforts. The only resident left in Petites, Austin Bennett, regularly helps out with repairs.

Before the days of nightclubs, restaurants or movie theatres and particularly in smaller communities, churches were used for much more than worship. They provided a social meeting place for residents through events such as garden parties.

“This building still binds them as perhaps it was the focal point of village life,” said Julia via email, who relishes her discovery of the community’s amazing history.

John and Julia are doing what they can to save the church and have made progress. However they are retired and the church still requires a significant amount of repair.

“The ocean side of the church now has its first coat of white paint,” said Julia, but the lower segment still needs to be completed. Right now their top priority is stability.

Around September the plan is to address the foundation, hardly an easy task. Support pillars and stone will have to be brought over by boat and they will require physical help from someone with expertise about what needs to be done.

For the couple the project is a labour of love.

“This is a new adventure in our lives and it feels good,” according to Julia.

However it can’t continue indefinitely. Julia says that within the next five years the plan is to cede ownership of the church to someone who feels as passionate about it as they do. She believes there is a lot of tourist potential for a savvy entrepreneur, and has even heard rumours that someone may be pursuing that idea already.

“As tourism grows it is a perfect place to have this as a destination,” said Julia, who has another suggestion too.

One idea involves an extreme trekking excursion from Harbour Le Cou to Rose Blanche. Hikers could visit the church to rest and take shelter before returning to Rose Blanche. Julia said she even has notes from trekkers who have made such a trip.

“We are searching for ideas to try and bring back to the world the village of Petites so part of it will continue to survive,” she said.

Those who wish to follow the restoration progress or donate time and labour to the church’s restoration may do so via Facebook on the Petites Church Newfoundland: Restoration page.    

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