Description of Historic Place
Stella Maris Church is located on St. Stephen Street in Pictou, Nova Scotia. This brick, Gothic Revival style church was built in 1865 and stands out among the surrounding sandstone and wood frame residential buildings. The church building and property are included in the provincial designation.
Stella Maris Church is valued for its close historical association with the Roman Catholic Church in Pictou County and as a fine example of a Gothic Revival style church in brick.
In the first years of settlement, Pictou County was almost entirely Protestant. One of the first Catholics to settle in Pictou was an Irish immigrant, Joseph Connell, who arrived in 1795. For much of the nineteenth century, the small Catholic population was Irish. There may have been a church erected as early as 1810 at nearby Merigomish; it is, however, certain that in Pictou, St. Patrick's Chapel opened for services in 1828. At that time, there were about 1,000 Catholics in Pictou County, less than eight percent of the population. Although there were periods when there was no resident priest, and priests tended to stay only a few years, by the 1860s the congregation had reached the point where a new church was required.
The leadership, for what was a major undertaking for still a comparatively small congregation, came from resident priest Father Ronald MacDonald. He was born at Maligant Brook (now Maryvale), Antigonish County, educated at a parish school and afterwards taught classics at Saint Francis Xavier before coming to Pictou.
It was presumably Father MacDonald who engaged Owen Hamill as architect. Hamill was already involved in the remodelling of St. Mary's Basilica in Halifax and the building of the stone church at Cheticamp. Hamill moved to Pictou to supervise construction of Stella Maris. Father MacDonald also chose the location as the site for the church.
The cornerstone was laid on the feast of Corpus Christi, on June 15th, 1865. In November the following year, Bishop MacKinnon performed the dedication service for the church. It is believed that he chose the name, Stella Maris. Stella Maris means "Star of the Sea," and pays tribute to the Blessed Virgin Mary as Stella Maris is frequently applied to the Virgin Mother; in Hebrew the word for Mary is Miriam, which means star.
Stella Maris is a skillful, though somewhat restrained example of a late nineteenth century Gothic Revival architecture. The building is constructed of red brick masonry with sandstone used for quoining, architraves, and other decorative features. Gothic inspired architectural elements include: buttresses, capped with finials on the front elevation; windows with pointed arches; a circular window over the principal entrance; and prominent central tower, projecting from the front elevation, and surmounted by a tall thin spire.
Its hilltop location, combined with its tall spire, make Stella Maris a landmark when viewed from land or sea.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, no. 149
Character-defining elements of Stella Maris Church relating to its Gothic Revival style include:
- red brick construction;
- sandstone quoining and architraves;
- buttresses, capped with finials on the front elevation;
- pointed arch windows;
- circular window over the principal entrance;
- prominent central tower, projecting from the front elevation, and surmounted by a tall thin spire;
- location on hilltop overlooking Pictou Harbour.