Lorraine Briscoe, LJI
Knowlton’s most famous landmark, the Knowlton United Church (KUC) is up for sale. “The church has been struggling financially for some time due to declining membership and higher maintenance costs. Discussions about its future have been going on for a few years now,” explained its part-time Reverend, Steve Lawson. Unlike St Paul’s Anglican Church, KUC doesn’t have land it can sell off to developers to generate funds to keep the congregation going.
The community is not likely to see this beautiful structure with curved pews, built in 1895, fall into the ‘wrong hands’ due to certain protections. It is included in Quebec’s Inventaire du Patrimoine Bati which means that any new owner would require the town’s permission to demolish or change it. Furthermore, the church has agreed with the listing agent to reserve the right to refuse any offer for any reason.
KUC and TBL have been in talks over the last year and a half about the possibility of the town acquiring the property. The town has recently identified KUC as it can exercise a pre-emptive right of first refusal. “We have been approached by a group of buyers that are interested in collaborating with the town on this file. But for the moment the town is still reflecting on this. The official answer should come at the beginning of September,” says Mayor Burcombe.
The Brome County Historical Society (BCHS) is seriously contemplating buying KUC. “The church is a critical part of the town and its history,” says Alan Eastley, BCHS President. Working it jointly with another party like TBL is how he sees being able to acquire the church. “We have significant donation pledges to be able to realize this project. The response from our membership has been overwhelmingly positive.” In a July communication to the BCHS membership Eastley laid out many good reasons for considering the purchase including BCHS’s need for storage space and auditorium space to hold events.
“Regardless of what happens to the church our small congregation will go on worshipping. If the new owner cannot rent to us, we will find a new space,” Lawson wants to make clear. Eastley says BCHS would see that the community groups like The Knowlton Players, musical groups, and Wellness Lac Brome Volunteer Centre could continue to use the church space should BCHS buy the property.
As Tempo was going to press there was an offer on the table for KUC and yet the town’s right of first refusal had not yet been registered. The KUC trustees had not made their decision and there was the possibility they would ask for more time.