MONTREAL – The Notre-Dame de Montréal Basilica, one of Canada’s best-known religious buildings, calls for urgent help from governments to deal with a heavy budget deficit caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
The director of the historic Old Montreal Church, Claudia Morissette, said the institution expected a shortfall of around $ 12 million this year, as cultural events and guided tours remain on hold due to of the pandemic.
“It is enormous. This represents 85% of our total revenues, ”Ms. Morissette said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
She explains that this income is absolutely necessary to preserve and restore the stone building, built in the 1820s in the neo-Gothic style. The basilica, which received around one million visitors a year before the pandemic, is one of Montreal’s main tourist attractions.
A first phase of restoration work is already underway on its facade, but the institution fears not having the means to finance the second and third phases of restoration on the east and west towers of the building, says Ms. Morissette.
These first three phases, considered urgent, are expected to cost $ 9.2 million out of a total of nearly $ 30 million of work needed to preserve and restore the basilica over the next decade.
“We cannot put (these projects) on pause because it risks endangering the integrity of the towers and even becoming dangerous,” says the director. “We also do not control the degradation of other phases, which are for the moment a priority, but which could become urgent at the turn of a winter. (…) If we wait, it will cost more. “
Notre-Dame Basilica is not the only church in Quebec facing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 crisis. Many churches are struggling to cover their costs and maintain their aging buildings as the pandemic has forced them to suspend operations this spring.
Quebec’s Ministry of Culture announced last month that it would invest $ 15 million to preserve religious heritage, targeting 62 buildings and three organs. Minister Nathalie Roy said the investment would also help stimulate the economy and create jobs for artisans and workers.
Ms. Morissette clarified that Notre-Dame Basilica received $ 1 million last year from the Quebec Religious Heritage Council, a non-profit organization that supports the conservation of historic buildings, to help fund part of the first phase of its restoration. But the basilica was not included in the new funding announced by the ministry.
“We understand that we are not the only ones. We know that COVID has affected a lot of people. But we are a major pole of attraction. We are a main heritage gem, ”she emphasizes.
In an email sent to The Canadian Press on Friday, the Ministry of Culture claims to have met representatives of the basilica on July 29 and to have presented them with “different possible funding avenues” for the work.
Among these is a program for the protection of religious cultural heritage, said Emilie Mercier, a spokesperson for the ministry.
“The Ministry will receive and analyze any request for funding submitted by the representatives of the basilica.”
Andréanne Jalbert-Laramée, cultural heritage advisor at the Quebec Religious Heritage Council, says that if the Notre-Dame Basilica is in trouble, it means that smaller and less famous churches are too.
“The case of the basilica is not isolated. There are many other churches (…) which are living under very difficult financial pressure and that can have an impact on the condition of the buildings, ”she explains.
She estimates that approximately $ 40 million is needed to restore and preserve religious heritage buildings across Quebec. The government’s $ 15 million investment is a good start, she says.
“These are subsidies that are essential for the survival of these buildings,” says Ms. Jalbert-Laramée. “The need is great, the need is there.”
The director of the Notre-Dame basilica is wondering how the historic institution will manage to finance its restoration.
Although daily masses resumed last month, guided tours and shows that attract tourists are still on hold. The summer season, which typically draws hundreds of thousands of visitors, has completely gone by the wayside, she says, and it’s not yet clear if activities will return to normal next year.
In 2018, the basilica reported having sold nearly 833,500 tickets for guided tours and more than 227,000 tickets for its “Aura” show. Ms. Morissette underlines that the institution succeeded in being autonomous in the financing of its restoration work, until the arrival of the crisis.
She calls on the different levels of government – federal, provincial and municipal – to provide urgent financial assistance to help Notre-Dame compensate for its losses.
“Because it is the symbol of the founding of the city of Montreal, because it is one of the most recognized religious monuments in America, because it is the main reason for tourist attraction in Old Montreal ( …) This jewel must be preserved so that the next generations can benefit from it. ”
Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, The Canadian Press
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