Former Saint John church begins transformation to climbing gym

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WATCH ABOVE:: There was a strange sort of furniture store sale Saturday in Saint John. Pews were for sale out of the former St. John the Baptist Church in the south end, marking the beginning of a new life for the former place of worship. Silas Brown has more – Sep 4, 2021

On Saturday morning, a steady stream of pews were carried out the door of the St. John the Baptist Church in Saint John’s south end. It’s part of the former church’s transformation from a place of worship to a climbing gym.

“In order for us to build the gym we can’t have all the pews here, and they’re beautiful pieces of history, so we needed to find new homes for many of them,” said co-owner of Climb 1884, David Alston.

Rather than scrap the pews, they’re being sold: $125 for the small ones and $200 for the large ones. The goal is to make way for several rope climbing walls, including a 16-metre wall at the altar of the church.

Alston says he hopes to transform what was once an important community space into a different sort of gathering place.

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Read more: From worship to workspace: Saint John synagogue repurposed as office space

“A church has always been a gathering place for people, it’s a place to build community,” Alston said.

“And what’s neat about this is that it is going to be a gathering place again, but it will be a gathering place for climbers, for people that want to learn to climb, for people who climb outside and want to climb inside.”

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What is sport climbing?

Those purchasing pews have various different uses in mind. Alston said some have been bought by those who used to be part of the congregation. Others are looking for a unique type of seating.

And some are destined to be repurposed by new community groups. Chad Sooley bought four large pews that will be used in change rooms for a new community centre being built by the Trojan Rugby Club.

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“Obviously these have been around for 100 years and they’re still standing the test of time, so we figure we can put them into our community centre and it will add value,” Sooley said.

Read more: N.B. man gives community church new life while many more are slated for closure across Canada

Another of the goals of the fledgling gym is to support and grow the climbing community in the province. Half the proceeds raised from the sale of the pews will be going to Ascent NB to help them maintain climbing areas across the province.

“The money will go towards our route development fund, which is there to replace hardware that exists at cliffs, so climbing anchors that we have at cliffs throughout the province,” said Ascent NB president Greg Hughes.

Hughes says the sport has been growing rapidly over the last few years. With climbing’s Olympic debut and the new gym, Hughes says the sport is poised to continue to grow in the province.

“I think a huge influx of new members will come along in the coming years.”

Click to play video: 'Climbing makes its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics'
Climbing makes its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

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