MONTREAL – The restoration of Christ Church Cathedral’s iconic spire is finished. “The spire has, at long last, been unwrapped from its scaffolding and is standing proudly again in the midst of all the steel and glass downtown,” writes the Very Rev. Bertrand Olivier, dean of the cathedral, in the diocesan newspaper.
The steel structure and aluminum tiles, which had replaced the original stone spire in the 1940s, had corroded to the point of instability. If left unchecked, the spire was a potential danger to the public, and the cathedral had to undertake major work to ensure its safety and longevity.
The cathedral’s architects developed a plan of action in two phases. In the first stage, which began in 2017, expert masons strengthened the stone tower that supported the spire. The second phase – the work on the spire structure – started in 2019. The original plan was to remove all the aluminum tiles, slice the spire in two and then lift both halves down to the ground for maintenance. However, this proved to be impossible because of the many other construction projects happening around the cathedral and the load-bearing restrictions of the building being situated on top of a shopping mall. A new process had to be developed.
The new approach involved enveloping the whole spire in scaffolding to remove the tiles. Each was painstakingly numbered so that it would find its place again at the end of the project. As tiles were removed, they were taken to a specialist firm in Ottawa for cleaning and decontamination to remove more than eight decades of pollution.
COVID-19 stopped work temporarily and then slowed down the process. Restoration work was also hindered by worldwide supply chain issues. Some of the materials needed for the work, including the additional scaffolding and many highly technical items, had to be sourced elsewhere than originally planned with longer lead times and higher costs.
Last May, Dean Olivier faced his own fear of heights and climbed the scaffolding to the top of the spire to bless the cross as it was set back in place, a powerful symbol of the presence of Christ in the heart of the city. Since then, the team of architects and contractors worked steadfastly – tackling each challenge as it arose – and finally taking down the scaffolding from the spire.
“This has been an extraordinary journey, one that will ensure that the cathedral will continue to be a place of gathering for Anglicans and Montrealers for many years to come,” writes Dean Olivier.
Although the work is finished, the cathedral still needs to raise $500,000 to $750,000 to cover costs. Donations can be made in three ways: by e-transfer to [email protected] with “Spire” in the message; by cheque labeled “Spire” to Christ Church Cathedral, 1444 Av. Union, Montreal, H3A 2B8; or online at montrealcathedral.ca/finishing-the-spire.