Ahousaht men load the bell from St. Lawrence Church into a trailer to take it to storage until it can be installed in the new chapel. (Photo - Marcie Callewaert)

Ahousaht men load the bell from St. Lawrence Church into a trailer to take it to storage until it can be installed in the new chapel. (Photo - Marcie Callewaert)

Ahousaht Church demolished after 62 years

Safer structure will replace St. Lawrence.

Marcie Callewaert

Special to the Westerly

The Ahousaht skyline changed on Feb. 7 as the St. Lawrence Catholic Church was demolished.

St. Lawrence Catholic Church was built in 1956. It has hosted many Sunday Mass’, Christmas gatherings, and baptisms. The Church even had its moment of stardom, being featured in the film “I heard the Owl Call My Name,” which was filmed in Ahousaht and released in 1973.

Unfortunately, the Church was recently deemed structurally unsafe and demolition was the only option. Kids would play in and around the building and there was increasing concern within the community for everyone’s safety.

Marie Donahue of Ahousaht elaborated on how the fundraising efforts by the Ahousaht community and Catholic Women’s League has ensured that a new non-denominational chapel will be built in the same location.

A Victoria Parish also made a large donation to the cause. Funds were raised by Father Dean to build a residence at the site of the new chapel for visiting nuns and clergy.

In “Tofino and Clayoquot Sound: A History”, Horsfield and Kennedy describe that the original pews were built by “Mr. J. Bonn of Mount Angel [who] did all the interior carpentry, constructing the altar and pews at Kakawis and barging them to Ahousaht.” The pews and bell were saved to be used within the new chapel. They have been placed in storage until the new building is ready.

The Church’s demolition was the end of an era, but it served to bring the Ahousaht community together. Some gathered nearby to watch the process in person, others watched from their porch or office windows.

Some individuals posted videos on Facebook and Ahousaht members from as far as Victoria and Vancouver were commenting how they felt about the demolition or their favourite memories.

Dan Schaeffer reminisced about the first service he and his wife attended at St. Lawrence Church. It was also Bishop Gagnon’s last Mass there.

After the service, they were chatting outside and the Bishop realized he had left his coat inside, but the door was locked. Dan knew that the side door was always open, because the door frame had rotted out years beforehand, and he was able to save the day and save the Bishop from hunting down the key for the front door. Beverly John recalled how she found refuge in the Church when she needed it most.

When she was feeling lost and alone, Father Salmon, the Priest, listened and provided her with the guidance she needed. John went on to say that the Church was “built on a foundation, on our land, a land where we call home, and brought good people together.”

While Ahousaht will be without a Church for an undetermined amount of time, community gatherings will continue at the Lighthouse Building, school gym and Thunderbird Hall.