Parishioners hope for salvation for historic church in downtown Winnipeg facing demolition

Winnipeggers walked across the aisles of Holy Trinity Anglican Church for what could be the last time, as the structure which has been a landmark of the city’s downtown core for more than a hundred years faces the prospect of demolition.

Church administration says there’s significant damage in the foundations of the building, which was erected around 1883. The church, designated as a national historic site in 1990, boasts unique Victorian-era Gothic architecture and intricate stained glass windows.

Now, cracks can be seen on the walls around the altar, and elsewhere in the building. The church’s vestry committee says it would need $7 million to make the necessary repairs — money the congregation doesn’t have.

“It just doesn’t seem that there’s a lot of church-going people really in the city so much anymore,” said Rich Arthurson, one of its members. “There’s a lot of different churches and options. So unfortunately, yeah, we’re not really seeing those numbers that we want.”

The local bishop has OK’d the sale of the building after a request submitted by the vestry earlier this year, but Arthurson says no one knows how that will pan out.

Meanwhile, he’s still hoping people will help save the building, which he said was originally meant to be temporary, but has so far managed to withstand the test of time.

The interior of a church
Church administration says there’s significant damage in the foundations of the building, which was erected around 1883. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

“It’s 140-plus years later and we’re still here,” he said. “We’re hoping that maybe some of the partners in the downtown area … in the private sector would be able to help us [save it].”

“This story could help bring forward people who may have been married here, who had … funeral services here, or some kind of history,” he added.

On Saturday, the church was one of the historical buildings offering tours to hundreds of Winnipeggers for the city’s annual Doors Open event.

Dolores Seller was one of the people who dropped by. She was hoping to find a stained glass window honouring her brother, Randolph de Paiva, who died in 1987 and used to play the organ there.

Seller said it’s been at least a couple of years since she’s stepped inside the church.

A woman standing in front of an organ.
Dolores Seller says it’s been a couple of years since she has stepped inside the church, one of the places his where her brother played the organ. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

“It’s very old–fashioned, but it’s nice.… I know my brother [loved] playing here,” she said.

“It feels sad if it goes away, you know. There’s so many things going away. And I hate to see this go away, too.”

Joan Lloyd was one of the volunteers welcoming people to the church. She has been part of its congregation ever since she came to Canada from Trinidad in the 1970s.

“This has been our spiritual home for over 50 years,” Lloyd said while standing by the pew she and her family used to sit upon. “The boys were baptized here, they got married here. My husband’s funeral was here.”

A woman standing by a church pew.
Joan Lloyd has been part of the church’s congregation ever since she came to Canada from Trinidad in the 1970s. (Arturo Chang/CBC)

Lloyd said that ever since her husband died she’s been coming to the church mostly on her own.

She said she’s seen the congregation dwindle throughout the years, but that she and the church are still trying to “reach the hearts of people,” and she hopes they can continue to do that work there.

A woman standing inside a church
Catherine King said Holy Trinity is not only important to its congregation, but the rest of the downtown community. (Arturo Chang/CBC)

“I’m hoping that I will find $7 million buried in my front yard or something,” she said. “I’m hoping that people will come forth and help in whatever way, because we need it. We need to keep this … going because it has helped many people.”

Catherine King doesn’t come to mass at the church regularly, but has been volunteering there twice a week since Christmas. She said Holy Trinity is not only important to its congregation, but the rest of the downtown community.

“It’s irreplaceable for about 200 people every Tuesday and every Thursday,” King said. “We have lunch programs, food, clothing, warm socks and gloves, barbecue every Tuesday and Thursday for the homeless people and people in need.”

Stained glass inside a church
The church’s vestry committee says it would need $7 million to make necessary repairs. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

Arthurson said whatever happens to the building, the church will survive so long as the community is there.

“People don’t come here to worship, you know, stained glass and pews and man-made elements,” he said. “I just kind of prefer to put things in God’s hands and, you know, hope for the best.”