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Residents will suffer irreparable harm if the Trinity Historical Society sells deconsecrated church right now, judge rules
Residents of Old Bonaventure were successful this week in their effort to halt the sale of a deconsecrated Anglican church in the town, with the court saying they would suffer irreparable harm if the sale went ahead at this time.
Twenty-nine of the 33 adult residents in Old Bonaventure, located in the Trinity Bight area of Trinity Bay, signed a petition last month confirming their agreement with a local woman representing them in a legal action against the Trinity Historical Society related to the sale of the former St. Luke’s Anglican Church.
The residents filed a statement of claim with Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court on Jan. 19, asking for a court order compelling the historical society to return the church property to them. They also filed an application for an injunction preventing the society from selling the property until the statement of claim is dealt with.
The Diocesan Synod of Central Newfoundland moved to deconsecrate the 130-year-old church in 2008 and dispose of it. Recognizing its importance to local residents, the synod approached the community to take possession of the property, and it was later agreed that the church would be transferred to the historical society for the benefit of the residents.
Over the ensuing months, the society’s president engaged in discussion with the residents, referring to the agreement as a “partnership.”
“The society has also agreed that should the partnership not work for some reason or if the society finds itself in a position where it can no longer operate the building that it would be returned to become the responsibility of the community,” the president wrote in a letter in 2009.
At the end of that year, the church officially transferred the property to the historical society.
In 2018, the society issued a call for expressions of interest, giving first priority to residents of Old Bonaventure. After two years of receiving no uptake, the society put the church on the market last fall, receiving an offer from a third party. The closing date was originally set for the beginning of January and subsequently postponed until March.
Current real estate listings show the church for sale with an asking price of $45,000.
“It appears that development galvanized the residents and spurred them to action,” Justice Garrett Handrigan wrote last Wednesday of the residents' decision to file a statement of claim and an application for an injunction in the meantime.
“The society’s claim that it did not intend to confer any ownership interest in the residents is disingenuous." — Justice Garrett Handrigan
Handrigan ruled on the latter only; the claim has not yet been heard.
The residents also filed a lis pendans — a legal notice to anyone involved in the sale of the property of the pending lawsuit — which the historical society argued should be dismissed, saying it had no agreement with the residents that would give them a legal interest in the church. Handrigan disagreed, pointing to the society’s use of the word “partnership” in correspondence.
“The society’s claim that it did not intend to confer any ownership interest in the residents is disingenuous,” the judge wrote, saying the historical society had given an “unconditional commitment” to return the church to the community. The agreement was “simple, unqualified and indisputable,” he said.
Handrigan issued the injunction and upheld the lis pendans, though he acknowleged the society's argument that a delayed closing date could mean a sale lost forever.
“If the society is permitted to sell the church property, the residents will suffer the greater harm: the property will be gone and unavailable to them if they succeed in their claim and the court orders the society to return the property to them,” he wrote.
“I acknowledge the risk to the society that an injunction creates. However, it is a smaller risk than the possibility of the irreparable harm to the residents that allowing the society to sell the property would entail.”