Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Church tour an uplifting experience

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As a summer job, this one has some unexpected side benefits.

Not only has Sylvie Boucher researched modern architecture in order to lead visitors through Precious Blood Roman Catholic Church, she's also become more attuned to her Catholic beliefs by spending hours inside a place of worship.

"By working here, I've become more in touch with my faith," says Boucher, who is studying translation at St. Boniface College.

"It's something that's just part of my day. When there's no tours, I just go and sit because there's a presence here I don't feel in other churches."

For the second summer running, showing people through what some have dubbed the "corkscrew church" for its spiraling cedar shake roof is a daily routine for Boucher, who attended the St. Boniface-area church as a child. The free tours of the distinctive structure, designed by Winnipeg architect Étienne Gaboury and constructed at a cost of $397,000 in 1968, grew out of increased requests from local and international visitors.

"The parishioners have put their heart into the building and the church," explains Rev. David Brabant, now in his third year at the helm of the 250-family parish. "It is unique and they're attached to it. We open it up so others can appreciate it."

Equipped with a tiny marketing budget that only stretched far enough to produce a simple brochure, Boucher hasn't exactly been run off her feet with tour requests, with about 50 people visiting so far this summer and 200 in total last year. But those folks aren't accidental tourists, she says, citing examples of students and international architects asking to see the building, including one from China who brought his own translator.

During the short tour, Boucher offers a well-scripted speech outlining the wood and brick building's history and architecture, beginning at the front entrance and leading visitors through the spiral design that slopes up gently to the altar, located directed under the tip of the 29-metre ceiling. She points out the oak benches laid out in a semi-circle, the use of organic material throughout, the discreet stained glass that provides indirect light, the gentle curves, and the superior acoustics.

"He (Gaboury) wanted it to signify the path of the people to the promised land," she says of the curving path to the altar continued in the spiraling roof line.

But when the architect himself visited recently with visitors in tow, Boucher stepped aside graciously to allow the expert to explain the symbolism in the structure.

"He was here just the other day wanting to show the building. I let him do the tour that day," she says.

The building provoked controversy among parishioners 40-odd years ago when Gaboury proposed the structure, which some have compared to a teepee. Brabant says visitors usually come out of curiosity, but leave with a sense of awe.

"The architecture speaks for itself... just in the projection of those huge beams as a centre of life and light can be seen as the journey of the human person toward God," he says.

Touring the building for its architecture is fine, says a longtime parishioner, but worshipping there during the daily 10:30 a.m. mass elevates the experience entirely.

"It's so serene and peaceful in the building. I think it's telling because it brings us closer to our creator," says parish finance chairman Guy Savoie, who oversaw the recent construction of a $1.3 million parish hall and office complex adjacent to the church.

"It's (made from) natural products so that really brings us closer to nature and our creator. It has a telling effect on you, no doubt."

Living across the street from the church, Savoie has witnessed tour buses stopping by or visitors circling the building and trying every door to get a glimpse of the interior. On occasion, he's walked across the parking lot and let people in for an impromptu tour.

Whether people come out of curiosity or because they are interested in the architecture, Brabant is more interested in what they might take away from their visit.

"If they can go away with the fact that we are on a journey, that would be great," he says. "If they can take away a spiritual mood, then we or Gaboury would have obtained his objective."

brenda@suderman.com

Tour times

Tours of Precious Blood Roman Catholic Church, 200 Kenny St. (at Enfield Crescent) run 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, until the end of August. Tours are free, but donations are welcome. For more information, call 233-2874 or 802-0385.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2010 H13

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