© MMXIV V.1.0.2
by Morley Evans
St. Matthew’s Parish began when the original Grace church was consecrated in 1910.
Today’s St. Matthew’s church building began life in 1915 as a “basement church.” In 1926, the roof over the basement was removed and the superstructure was built.
The new church was not built on top of the existing basement walls. Instead, Frank Portnall, the architect, built the superstructure on 16 brick piers that were evenly spaced a few feet inside the existing basement walls. How deep these piers extend below the basement floor is not known. The big brick things one can see today in the basement are these piers. Everything above them — the north wall, the south wall, the floor of the sanctuary and the roof above it rests on these piers. The east wall, the west wall, and the bell tower have a foundation of unknown design but they were designed by Portnall who was a competent engineer.
Plans may exist at City Hall or in the Saskatchewan Archive. Perhaps the Diocese of Qu’Appelle has an archive but this is not England or the United States where records are fastidiously kept for decades and centuries so plans may not exist.
On the main floor of the sanctuary, low walls were built atop the old basement walls. Aisles pass between those walls and the columns that rest on the piers in the basement. Small stained glass windows adorn those low walls.
The tall stained glass windows on the high walls of the sanctuary are placed at the centre of the arches that rise from the columns. The roof is supported by the north and south high walls.
The south west entrance rests uneasily on a crumbling foundation that is not typical of the main structure. A large addition was built on the north side of the church a few years ago. It rests on piles. Douglas Ridgway, who looked after the mechanical systems for years, says the southern basement wall, which is brick, was reinforced with shot-crete in the sixties, overloading the footing. The Grace Broder chapel is another add-on to the main structure. Its foundation is unknown.
St. Matthew’s is a unique building built entirely of brick, including the foundation. This is very uncommon in Regina. Engineers here cannot be expected to know much — or anything — about this since they will have had little or no schooling and no experience with it. An expert mason is required who respects and understands this type of construction. The masonry needs attention. Repointing was incompetently done in the past and mortar is being attacked by moisture. Bishop Rob Hardwick has told us that an expert mason with experience with restoration of historic brick buildings lives in Fort Qu’Appelle. Let’s see what he thinks.
For some reason, panic was created using fear that St. Matthew’s is unsafe. A focused examination of the piers, the east wall, the west wall and the bell tower will tell us whether the building is safe or not. Everything else — regarding the building that is — depends on the answer to the question: Are we safe?
If it is determined that the basic structure is sound — which seems likely — immediate attention needs to be paid to the mechanical and electrical systems and to the shingles on the roof. If the basic structure is not sound, it is time to call for a bulldozer.
On-going attention to the building and its care and maintenance, including janitorial services, must recommence immediately.
Some parishioners have expressed concerns that “studying things to death” is a waste of time. I disagree. Discarding balderdash and seeking the truth is never a waste of time. Knowing what one is talking about is necessary. It must be done.
St. Matthew’s Congregation:
Rebuilding the congregation is as important as securing St. Matthew's structure. St. Matthew’s congregation is not unique. Religion, itself, has been seriously under attack since 1901. The Great War and its sequel, World War II, left cathedrals and churches empty everywhere.