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Church steeple removed
Work part of demolition plans at historic Sacred Heart

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, July 26, 2012

A landmark and piece of history was removed from the Fort Simpson skyline on June 20.

NNSL photo/graphic

Owen Rowe, centre, of Rowe's Construction operates the controls for a picker truck to lower the steeple of Sacred Heart Catholic Church to the ground in Fort Simpson on July 20. The removal of the steeple is the first step in the eventual demolition of the church. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

Approximately 50 people gathered on Friday afternoon to watch as the steeple of Sacred Heart Catholic Church was lifted from the building. The removal signalled the beginning of the demolition of the church.

The condition of the church, built in 1923, had been deteriorating, which led the congregation to stop using the building four years ago. Services have since been held in the gymnasium of Bompas Elementary School. Planning and fundraising is also been underway for the construction of a new church building.

The goal is to build an L-shaped building in the same location as the current church on the village's main street. The building will include a church and an attached residence for the priest, said Darlene Sibbeston, a member of the New Church Building Committee.

Since taking over the fundraising for the project at the beginning of February, the committee has raised a little less than $9,000. Sibbeston said he is uncertain of the total amount raised.

By August, Sibbeston said the committee hopes to have a firm fundraising goal after receiving price quotes. A fundraising thermometer will be set up to show Fort Simpson residents the progress, she said.

Watching from a grassy lot kitty-corner from the church, Sibbeston said the removal of the steeple is a cause for mixed emotions.

"It's sad but it's happy," she said.

On the positive side, the removal shows progress is being made and the project is moving forward, said Sibbeston.

However, Sibbeston said she was thinking about all of her memories linked to the church including her baptism, first communion and confirmation ceremonies.

Watching the process was also emotional for Pearl Norwegian. Pearl's father Leo Norwegian helped build and erect the steeple in 1959.

"I thought this day would never come," she said. From the inside, the church always looked so clean and there was no indication it would ever come apart, Pearl said.

Wilbert Antoine also found himself reminiscing as the steeple was being prepared for removal.

"It's a bit nostalgic," he said. "It's a little sad to see history going down."

Wilbert had his first job in the church in approximately 1958, serving mass every Sunday that summer, a task for which he received a new bicycle as a reward.

Wilbert's grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in the church. The steeple is a landmark, he said.

The construction of the steeple comes with its own story.

Leo Norwegian and Fred Sibbeston were operating a crane in 1959 during the construction of Thomas Simpson and Bompas Elementary Schools, said Jonas Antoine.

The two men talked to the father at the time about building a steeple for the church.

When it came time to lift the steeple in place, however, they discovered the crane was too short for the job. The men lowered the steeple back down and returned with a long tree trunk, approximately 60 feet tall, that they secured to the end of the boom. They strapped the steeple to the other end of the log and then lifted it into place, said Jonas.

The steeple and the bell inside of it will be saved and used in the new church building, said Sibbeston. Other parts of the church, including the pews, altar, lighting fixtures and interior doors, have also been saved. The rest of the building is scheduled to be demolished this fall.

Rowe's Construction donated its services to remove the steeple. Two staff members from the Northwest Territories Power Corporation assisted the six Rowe's employees during the process.

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