Top News

Grand Falls-Windsor congregation pushing forward after fire damages 109-year old church

The St. Matthew's Presbyterian Church in Grand Falls-Windsor was the victim of a fire on Friday evening.
The St. Matthew's Presbyterian Church in Grand Falls-Windsor was the victim of a fire on Friday evening. - Nicholas Mercer

Bob Thompson spent his Sunday afternoon clad in work clothes and a pair of knee-high rubber boots. 

Inside the charred sanctuary of the church.
Inside the charred sanctuary of the church.

 

The chairman of the board for St. Matthew’s Presbyterian Church in Grand Falls-Windsor, Thompson was overseeing the start of the church cleanup after a fire razzed much of the 109-year-old church Friday night, Oct. 18.

Fire crews from the Grand Falls-Windsor Fire Department arrived at the scene of the fire just after 9 p.m. and found flames coming from the inside. In about an hour, firefighters had the extinguished the fire but stayed on the scene to monitor hot spots.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Now there are boards over the windows broken by firefighters to fight the fire and a hole cut in the steeple where a hose was dropped down. There are scarred chairs on one side of the church where Thompson believes the fire started.

The parts of the inside not burned by fire are covered in soot and damaged by smoke and water. There is a portion of the building that is relatively unscathed. 

“It could have been a lot worse,” said Thompson, who was just sitting down for the start of a baseball game on television when he learned of the fire. “The fire department did an excellent job getting the fire under control.”

It is believed the building — which is made of wood and concrete — is still structurally sound. Thompson believes they’ll be able to make repairs where needed.

St. Matthew’s was built in 1910 and is a municipal heritage structure. The congregation numbers 65  and many of parishoners are third and fourth generation members. Thompson, himself, was baptized in the church and was married there.

“We’re pleased the building is still standing and it is almost still weather tight,” said Thompson. The building was insured.

Aimee Doiron joined St. Matthew’s congregation as its organist two decades ago when she was offered the chance to play after the organist of 66 years retired.

She was just returning home from school and coming home to teach music lessons when she took the position.

“It’s pretty shocking,” Doiron said of the church fire. “We had just had our first service.”

The congregation meets once a month, on the last Sunday, and September’s service marked the first meeting since its summer break.

Doiron thought back to her first Christmas as the organist at St. Matthew’s and one of her first experiences with the Hammond Organ used there. The church holds a Christmas morning service and many of the carols sung are by request.

This morning a parishioner requested 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ and Doiron was still getting used to the organ.

As she was playing near the end of the carol, she accidently hit the organ stop instead of the note she was looking for, causing the music to stop.

The congregation never missed a beat and finished the song. As it turns out, the person performing the service was just about to tell a story of an organ that stopped working during the writing of the famous carol ‘Silent Night’.

 

These charred chairs sit on the ground next to a burned-out St. Matthew's Presbyterian Church on Church Road in Grand Falls-Windsor.
These charred chairs sit on the ground next to a burned-out St. Matthew's Presbyterian Church on Church Road in Grand Falls-Windsor.

“I found it ironic that the organ stopped working and the person was going to write a story about a broken organ,” said Doiron. “I’ve come to love that particular organ.”

A music teacher, she regularly held a Christmas recital in the church. There is no sound system in the building and it gave her students an opportunity to get used to singing without a microphone, as they would in the local Kiwanis Music Festival.

Those Christmas recitals also served as a fundraiser for the church.

The fate of the organ after the fire is still unknown as of now, although Thompson suspects it could be salvageable.

What may not be salvageable is the electronic keyboard that Dorion stored there for her students.

Still, she believes the congregation will help themselves through this situation.

“St. Matthew’s has an old-fashioned traditional feel,” she said. “Part of me is still in shock and it’s really sad. You never think that (a fire) is going to happen.

“Knowing the congregation the way that I do ... everyone will pull together.”

St. Matthew’s is scheduled to hold its monthly service on Oct. 27 and it looks like that will remain on schedule as the nearby Memorial United Church has offered its space for the time being.

Recent Stories