The Riverfield Presbyterian church in Très-Saint-Sacrement was built over 150 years ago in 1869 to serve the community along the English River. On May 9, a ground-breaking ceremony took place to launch a million-dollar restoration project that will see the building reopen as a church-based community centre.
The church was purchased in the fall of 2022 by Très-Saint-Sacrement resident Miller Carmichael, who created the Riverfield Presbyterian Church Foundation which now owns the building. “It was his vision to do this,” says his son, Andrew Carmichael, who is overseeing the project on behalf of his father and their family-run mechanical contracting firm of the same name.
Carmichael says they began seriously considering the project three years ago, but his father has been talking about restoring the church for around seven years. Work began to empty the church in January, he says, noting everything they removed has been saved.
The stonework on the exterior of the building is in decent shape, with just a bit of cracking between the two stone walls. Inside, the church has been gutted to make way for the installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system. Work to excavate and underpin the original stone foundation has also started in collaboration with Saint-Hubert-based foundation specialists Bisson Expert.
“The age of the building makes it quite fragile to do the underpinning work,” says Raymond Bisson, the president of Bisson Expert. “It is a beautiful opportunity,” he says, suggesting he feels privileged to be contributing to the preservation of the building and its heritage.
Once restored, “The pews will be returned, as well as the stained-glass windows, and anything else we can,” says Carmichael. The new basement will be used as a reception hall and the church will be open to host events. “It’s fulfilling,” says Carmichael, of working to help realize his father’s dream. “It is satisfying and interesting as well, since we are adding modern touches,” he adds, noting the contribution of retired Carmichael employee Bruno Ris, who is working as a technical advisor on the project.
Gaétan Filteau, an expert in foundation structure with Brisson, says church restoration projects of this nature – where the finished building retains its vocation – are especially rare in Quebec. “It is truly exceptional,” he says of the initiative. “There is a human element to this; it is much more than just a construction project,” he adds, saying the project is very close to his heart.
The same could be said of Très-Saint-Sacrement mayor Agnes McKell. “Our ancestors are looking down and seeing it’s not falling apart,” she says. Members of both the Carmichael and McKell families sat on the Riverfield and Howick kirk session that ceremoniously placed the cornerstone of the church on June 24, 1869. She says it is especially nice to know the building will remain open to the community.
“We are just a parish. We don’t have a town, so this is kind of neat,” she says, noting most services are shared with the neighbouring village of Howick. “We can claim this as our own,” she laughs, while expressing how appreciative she is to see life being brought back to the building.