You can’t help but notice one of Cape Breton’s most recognizable churches — whether you’re driving by, heading north out of Sydney, or sailing by on your way into Sydney Harbour. St. Alphonsus Church, better known today as the Old Stone Church, has been perched on a hillside overlooking the road and the water for a hundred years now. It’s barely avoided the wrecking ball over the past few years, but its chances of survival are looking better these days.
The Old Stone Church is located on Arthur Drive, just off the New Waterford Highway (Trunk Route 28), in the community of Victoria Mines, Nova Scotia. It’s about 13 kilometers north of Sydney, and it’s on the way to the Low Point Lighthouse.
I noticed the Old Stone Church on my way up Route 28 on Day 4, and made a mental note to visit it the my return trip up the highway the following day. Of course, it wouldn’t be easy to forget that it’s there — the 100-year-old structure towers over Route 28 and Sydney Harbour. The weathered, aging structure is so perfectly placed, it looks like a movie set, or maybe the location of a Scooby-Doo episode.
But unlike an episode of Scooby-Doo, there’s no crotchety old man inside, trying to scare away the meddling kids. It’s quite the opposite. Cape Bretoners are doing their darnedest to bring attention to the Old Stone Church, with hopes of saving it from demolition. The property was up for sale in 2015 — a last-ditch effort to find a new owner before it was torn down. The Stone Church Restoration Society purchased it for $40,000, and managed to raise enough money to complete the sale in August, 2016.
But an even more challenging job lies ahead. As you can see, the church is a solid building, but it’s in pretty rough condition.
The exterior needs a lot of restoration, and I’ve only seen a few photos taken inside, but I’m certain that there’s work to be done in there, as well. According to a report in the Cape Breton Post, the Archdiocese of Antigonish closed the church in 2007, after determining that repairs would cost $600,000.
The Society hopes to turn the church into a tourist attraction (which it already is — hey, I stopped and took some pictures of it!) and use it as a non-denominational chapel for weddings and other events.
So, by the time you get to Cape Breton, the Old Stone Church may look a lot different — or it may look exactly the same. The good news is, it should still be there.
Here’s a look at the drive around Sydney…
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… from Sydney up to Low Point Light…
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… and from Sydney to the Cabot Trail:
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Unless you have some special interest in the Old Stone Church, or you just want to take some pictures, you don’t need to stop here. But at least now you’ll know a little bit about it when you drive by.