Hitching a ride home

Ashley Thompson athompson@hantsjournal.ca
Published on May 5, 2011

The old St. Matthew’s Anglican Church that once stood in Walton has sailed through unpredictable waters and arrived in Newport Landing in one piece. Finally.

The church, sitting atop the deck of a converted ferry operated by Stan Lord of New Brunswick, set sail on a two-day voyage May 4. It docked at the Hantsport wharf for the night, in an area where the water levels would stay deep enough to keep the 30-tonne building afloat, and made way for Newport Landing around 1 p.m. the following day.

About 200 spectators gathered around the wharf in Newport Landing on a drizzly Thursday afternoon to watch the deconsecrated church sail across the Minas Basin – a voyage that was attempted a few times in the fall, but postponed until spring due to harsh weather conditions.

The church’s impending 45-kilometre journey across the basin piqued the interest of national media outlets when the building’s new owners, Lorraine Vassalo and Stewart Creaser, announced they intended to rescue the historic structure, which dates back to 1844, and move it to their winery via the Minas Basin.

Vassalo could be seen grinning from ear to ear and snapping plenty of photos as the ferry drifted closer to Newport Landing, about an hour after it set sail in Hantsport, with her husband in the cabin and the newest addition to their Avondale Sky Winery completely intact.

“It went fabulously. Phil Leil is just a master at moving and when the ferry got here, we knew it was going to be a go, but we were still very anxious,” said Vassalo, as she watched a moving truck cautiously inch the tilting church closer to the Avondale Road.

“I wasn’t just worried about the church; I was worried about my husband on that boat.”

Vassalo said the move process proved to be a tad stressful and, at times, discouraging, but having the recycled church sitting on the foundation that has been ready for it since the fall will make it completely worth it.

“To have the church back on dry land is just absolutely euphoric,” she said, glancing at the crowd lining the waterfront, many of whom were applauding and fixating on the crew’s every move.

“It’s absolutely humbling that so many people find this of interest. We’re really thrilled with the support we’ve received and the encouragement.”

Phil Leil, the owner of Phil Leil Enterprises Limited House and Building Movers, said this was one of his most challenging, yet “exciting” projects to date. He said the wind and rainfall did not interfere with their plans and, overall, it was a “pretty good move.”

But the move isn’t finished quite yet.

Leil says the historic building will be moved one and a half miles down the Avondale Road to its new home next week. The movers are making arrangements with power and cable providers to ensure service lines will not be disrupted during the relocation.

Vassalo says the “beautiful structure,” which narrowly escaped demolition when the couple purchased it for $1.67, will be used for retail, production and storage at their Avondale Sky Winery.