Description of Historic Place
Notre Dame de l'Assomption is located in Arichat, Richmond County, on the highway that runs from Arichat to Petit de Grat on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Opened in 1837, Notre Dame is a combination of Neo-Classical and Gothic Revival style church, and is the oldest surviving Roman Catholic Church in Nova Scotia. The building and property are located in the provincial designation.
Notre Dame de l'Assomption is valued as the oldest surviving Roman Catholic Church in Nova Scotia and its architectural blend of the Neo-Classical and Gothic Revival architectural styles.
Construction of the church began in 1835 with the arrival of Reverend Jean-Baptiste Maranda in Arichat. The church that was in use at the time was in very poor condition so Reverend Maranda thought a new and larger church should be built. Initially the decision was to use stone but that was beyond the means of the congregation so wood was imported from Tracadie, in nearby Antigonish County on the mainland, and used as the building material.
The church officially opened on Sunday, October 15, 1837. Work, however, continued for another two years. The building measures one hundred and sixty feet in length. It has two rows of short windows, the upper row affording light for the galleries, which extends around three sides of the interior. The pews are of the boxed and closed type. The church has one central spire with a belfry.
When Bishop MacKinnon moved from Antigonish to Arichat in 1853, the church became the cathedral church for the newly-created diocese of Arichat. Bishop MacKinnon was responsible for the installation of two liturgical aids, still in use in the church. The first was the purchase of the large oil painting of the Assumption, to surmount the altar. The second was the importation of a pipe organ from Philadelphia in 1858.
Source: Provincial Heritage Property files, no. 178, Heritage Division, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS
Exterior character-defining elements of Notre Dame de l'Assomption relating to its Neo Classical architecture include:
- tall, front pediment, supported by pilasters and with dentils beneath;
- round headed principal entrance with fanlight and large rose window;
- bell towers on each side of the front entrance, with similar windows and door details, and capped with curved, dome like roofs.
Exterior character-defining elements of Notre Dame de l'Assomption relating to its Gothic Revival architecture include:
- tall pointed arch windows and mock flying buttresses in low relief on the side elevations and the chancel to the rear.
Interior character-defining elements of Notre Dame de l'Assomption relating to its Neo Classical and Gothic Revival architecture include:
- gallery supported by simple square piers and pointed arches along each side, and one of similar design in the rear gallery;
- heavily decorated pediment supported by four fluted columns, with Corinthian capitals and stone pedestals on the chancel wall;
- ceiling over the nave has a slight barrel vault, with several religious themed paintings on the wooden finish.
Character-defining elements of Notre Dame de l'Assomption property include:
- its prominent location on the main route between Arichat and Petit de Grat on Cape Breton Island;
- a burying ground that is located directly behind the Church which still include a few of the early stones and markers.