Community conservation: Ingredients for success

SOS-Églises at work. David Tremblay leads the discussion while Jérôme Baillargeon helps with the notes.

Photo: SOS-Églises at work. David Tremblay leads the discussion while Jérôme Baillargeon helps with the notes.


David Tremblay

Community, Tools for conservation

Published Date: Feb 14, 2008

For the past seven years, a group called SOS-Églises has led the fight to preserve two century-old village churches in Essex County. Located in Pointe-aux-Roches (Stoney Point) and St-Joachim – French-Canadian villages in southwestern Ontario – the two buildings have become cultural anchors for the communities.

From our experience, we have identified some of the ingredients that can make the task of conserving architectural heritage easier for individuals in a community.

The first ingredient is the presence in the community of a strong feeling of attachment to local architecture. Church buildings – especially village churches – are ideal candidates for community support because nearly every citizen has a personal connection to them.

Other ingredients include:

  • The willingness of one or two individuals to step forward and light the fuse. In our situation, the first persons to stand up and protest were St-Joachim people who formed a demolition resistance movement. Other people from Pointeaux-Roches joined in and the movement soon gathered momentum.
  • Strong leadership. SOS-Églises was placed under the leadership of someone with political experience at the municipal level.
  • Information about the heritage value of the buildings to be preserved. Knowledge of policies and regulations concerning heritage conservation is a must.
  • A common goal. There are numerous reasons why people would object to the destruction of their village church: personal reasons, business reasons and cultural reasons. We focused on a single purpose around which everyone rallied – the buildings simply must not be demolished.
  • Media coverage. The only lever of power available to individual citizens is the power of public opinion obtained through media coverage. For the media to cover a cause, the cause must have some level of public appeal. It must be more than a difference of opinion between two groups in a parish.
  • Common-sense positions. You are also less likely to be acknowledged by endorsing long-term claims that appear to be irrational. Care must be taken not to frighten curious onlookers who are potential supporters by making what appears to them to be exaggerated claims.
  • Respect for your rivals. The eventual support of the whole community may be necessary to achieve your objective over the years.
  • Acceptance of the “wear factor.” If the struggle carries over a number of years, some of the supporters will lose the will to continue and will wander off. Ensure that their contribution continues to be appreciated.
  • Support of the larger community, especially heritage protection agencies. Their public support helps confirm the validity of the conservation claims.

Finding a second life for two large structures located a few kilometres apart in a rural setting is a daunting challenge. But if Ontario’s rural architectural heritage is to be given the same protection as urban sites, it is a challenge that must be met.