Historic Lake Ainslie church destroyed by fire
– Rankin MacDonald- Dec 21,2011
Tragedy arrived at East Lake Ainslie on Sunday morning when the historic East Lake Ainslie Presbyterian Church burned to the ground.
It wasn’t only a terrible blow to those who called the church their spiritual home, but to all of the residents of Lake Ainslie who saw the church as a connection with their pioneer past.
According to Michael Gillis, chief of the Lake Ainslie Volunteer Fire Department, they got the call shortly after 9:00 a.m., and when they got there smoke was billowing out of the windows especially at the back balcony on the bell tower level where the furnace was located.
It wasn’t safe to send anyone inside, and when the windows began blowing out it just added to the danger.
“It wasn’t even safe to put ladders on the building,” he said.
The RCMP arrived on the scene shortly after the fire department, which was soon joined by the Inverness and Whycocomagh Volunteer Fire Departments.
The RCMP also realized the church could not be saved but credit the fire departments for saving nearby buildings including the church hall, despite the many embers that fell upon its roof.
“Although the exact cause of the fire remains to be determined, the fire has been deemed not to be suspicious in nature. The Lake Ainslie Volunteer Fire Department and the Nova Scotia’s Fire Marshall’s office continue the investigation” – reported the RCMP.
Speculation is that either the furnace or the wiring caused the fire.
The fire departments stayed on the scene until after 6:00 p.m.
“Everyone is so disappointed, down in the dumps,” said church elder Clifford Collins.
“But at the same time, it could have been a worse tragedy, if the church was filled for the Christmas service,” he said. “While it is a major tragedy it is only a building and wasn’t a family’s home.
Sunday was the day set aside for the church’s Christmas service, and a turkey dinner was to be held in the hall after the service.
“So many of us have a sentimental and emotional attachment to that church,” Collins added. “I was baptized there, was married there, and so many have the same memories.”
He said the whole area is feeling sad about the loss.
The furnace was started at 7:00 a.m. to warm the church up for the 11:00 a.m. service.
People who drove by the church at 8:15 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. saw nothing unusual, but within a half hour the church was beyond saving.
Collins said the church has about 50 members with about 20 coming out for services on Sunday.
The church was closed each year following the Christmas service, and the services were then held in the adjacent hall until the weather warmed the winds off Lake Ainslie.
“The furnace had to be on for hours to heat up the church,” Collins said.
He said the church was insured, but right now he can’t say what the future holds for the congregation or if there is a fourth church to be built on the site.
In 2010, East Lake Ainslie Presbyterian Church celebrated its 175th anniversary.
The church that burned on Sunday was the third to be erected at that location.
The first church was a log church built in 1855; the second church which also was lost to fire was erected in 1857-1858; and the recent one was built in 1880.
The present minister is the Rev. Louis Ihasz.
The East Lake Ainslie Church is the oldest continuing congregation in the Cape Breton Presbytery and 25 of its sons and daughters became ministers.
The first three ministers to serve the area were Rev. Alexander Farquarson (1834-1858), Rev. Donald MacKenzie (1864-1870) and Rev. Alexander Grant (1871-1895).
One of the unique features of the church was the bell tower that was added years after the church was built to commemorate the local soldiers who died in World War One.
A few years ago a plaque was hung on the door of the bell tower to honour the men.
They were Colin MacRae of West Lake Ainslie, Malcolm MacKay of Trout River, Daniel MacGregor of Scotsville, Morris MacLean of East Lake Ainslie and John Grant MacKay of Scotsville.
Barrie Fraser who plays the organ at services said the church’s acoustics will be missed.
“It was a great place for singing,” he said.
On Monday the elders combed the site to see if any artifacts could be found, and they couldn’t find the bell.
In some of the pictures it seems to be intact, so a serious search was to be done later.
This was the third church to burn in Nova Scotia this month.
(Thanks to the Inverness Oran and Rankin MacDonald for permission to use this article on our website. http://www.oran.ca/ )