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Church floats past hundreds of onlookers and toward new home

St. Matthew's Anglican Church is floated across the Bay of Fundy on May, 5, 2011 in Hantsport, Nova Scotia.

Mike Dembeck/Mike Dembeck/The Canadian Press

Cheers and applause rose up over the rain-soaked shores of a Nova Scotia river Thursday as a ferry steamed into port carrying an exalted piece of cargo.

About 300 people crowded around the wharf in Newport Landing while the boat slowly inched toward shore, laden with a 170-year-old church spared from the wrecking ball and destined for a new home inland.

"It's just a magnificent sight," onlooker Marlene Kinsman said as she watched St. Matthew's Church move up the Avon River under grey, drizzly skies.

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"Everybody's smiling. … There's excitement in the air."

Loud whoops mixed with the roar of the ferry's engines as it neared shore before being driven on land by a truck that travelled on board with the church.

A ramp was carefully lowered onto the shore to allow the 16-metre-long, nine-metre-wide church to drive on land and then eventually on to its new home a few kilometres away.

Stewart Creaser organized the unusual journey after buying the Anglican church more than a year ago to house his vineyard's wine shop in Avondale in the Annapolis Valley.

He travelled up the Avon with the church after it was loaded on board Wednesday in nearby Walton, where it was purchased for $1.67 in 1837 to serve the community.

He had tried last year to transport it on a ferry but the quick-changing tides and weather didn't permit, forcing him to wait until now when the ferry was available again. When the time came, they had to wait until the tides were at the right level and then drive the truck down the ramp.

Mr. Creaser said everything went well with the trip, despite encountering a little wind in the Minas Basin and a slight wobble when the hefty structure was wheeled off the boat in Newport Landing.

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"She's on land now, so it's all good - everyone's safe," he said. "It's a good feeling."

Perhaps it helped that the boat was being captained by Stan Lord, he said with a chuckle.

The journey ended a sometimes frustrating endeavour for Mr. Creaser, who came across the church after putting the word out that he was looking for a building for his Avondale Sky Winery.

His phone started ringing with people offering up everything from old barns to empty churches that had only a handful of congregants and little money to pay hefty maintenance bills.

It's a phenomenon that's playing out across the country and particularly in rural communities like Mr. Creaser's, where depopulation and other activities are keeping people away from Sunday services.

The Walton church was offered to him for a dollar, but he insisted on paying the original meagre price - a deal that saved it from demolition.

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Ted MacDonald, the former parish warden in Walton, said he was relieved Mr. Creaser and his wife came forward to save the church, which had only four congregants at the end.

"I'm just really pleased that the building wasn't destroyed, that it has a new home," he said from his home in Brooklyn, N.S.

"We just couldn't afford to keep it."

Mr. Creaser has said he's thrilled to be able to save the prim, light blue building because of its unique construction features that should be treasured.

The businessman said it has curved beams, ornate mouldings, beautiful windows and a lofty ceiling that would have been lost.

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