130-year-old church gets a refit to shore up cracks and crumbling brickwork

One of Victoria’s oldest churches is undergoing major repairs to fix cracks and crumbling bricks in its walls.

Centennial United, which was built in 1891 and is on the city’s heritage registry, was covered in scaffolding this past week while construction crews awaited an engineer’s report on the extent of work that needs to be done.

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The 130-year-old church at 612 David St. along Gorge Road East in the Rock Bay neighbourhood was built by the Methodists in what was then the outskirts of Victoria. The original spire was removed in 1931.

It still boasts a large United Church congregation and features one of the city’s few remaining pipe organs, built in 1910 by Casavant Frères in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.

Centennial United treasurer Arthur Menu said the project is estimated to cost about $80,000 — but it could much more, depending what’s in the engineering report. A portion of the cost will be offset by a heritage grant.

Cracking in the structure was discovered several years ago and the mortar and brickwork is crumbling in places, he said.

“We’re not exactly sure what caused it … if it came from seismic events, nearby construction or just the age,” Menu said.

“We do need to replace the masonry and whatever else is needed.”

Menu said it’s a difficult job to assess because the entire roof structure — framed with thick old-growth timbers — is supported by the brick walls. He said consulting engineers will determine the integrity of the existing brickwork, and how much of the supporting brick needs to be replaced, or if supports need to be added.

“We’re confident we are going to know what needs to be done, and done well,” Menu said.

Under heritage guidelines, the existing bricks must be reused or a match approved for replacements.

Adrian Sim, owner of CBS Stoneworks and the main contractor, said it’s a challenging job that’s been evolving as crews dig into existing brickwork.

“It’s such an old building and the mortar is eroded, so as you get into it, it can be a can of worms,” Sim said.

He’s been involved in church restorations before, in Oak Bay, and views the Centennial United project with “a sense of pride.”

“It’s not the biggest job I’ve done, but it’s definitely one of the coolest,” he said. “I’m really proud to be part of restoring a church that is 130 years old.”

John Dam and Associates, the consulting engineer on the project, specializes in heritage projects. Some of their work includes Christ Church Cathedral and St. Paul’s Anglican Church, as well as heritage homes in James Bay and sites such as Hatley Park, Point Ellice House and Sheringham Point Lighthouse.

Methodists arrived in Victoria on Feb. 10, 1858, according to the church’s archives. They started prayer meetings and Sunday school in a building on Kings Road until a permanent structure was built on Gorge Road in 1885.

Planning for the church started a short time later. It was completed in 1891 and dedicated as Centennial Methodist in honour of the 100th anniversary of the death of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley.

In 1925, it became Centennial United Church when the Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists joined to form the United Church of Canada, the first Canadian church enacted by Parliament.


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