Community brings new life to building

Abandoned church | Former United Church in Brock, Sask., is now home to community events and live music

The church in Brock, Sask., sat abandoned for years until it was recently reclaimed as a place where the community could meet once more.

Formerly a United Church, the building now serves as a place to host events, such as the recent Harvest Wrap Up Concert.

“It’s just a wrap up of the harvest and all of us (the community) are done now so it’s just a way to get together and be done harvest.… We don’t see each other and don’t talk and we’re busy working for a two month stretch,” said organizer and building owner Heather Speir.

“Now it’s just, we’re done, get together, listen to music, have a good time. Inevitably, people break out two-stepping and it just gets carried away at some point in the night.”

A handful of events has happened at the old church during the course of the year. For each event, Speir gathers the House Band, an ever-revolving cast of musicians, featuring herself and her neighbours.

Speir sings and plays the guitar during the performances.

“I do all of it with my band,” she said. “Without them I couldn’t do it.”

Speir and her band ensure a supper is prepared before the show, the sound system is ready to go and refreshments are available during the performance.

“This is maybe only the fifth show, but it caught on really quick,” Speir said.

“The show sold out in four days and there’s maybe 130 people in our town. I don’t advertise, but people in the rural community are craving this. It’s something that’s all live music and there’s no particular age or style of person that fits it.”

About 120 people attend each event from Brock and the surrounding area. Speir said people from Winnipeg and Calgary have also attended in the past.

At the last show, the House Band opened up for the Canadian alternative country singer and songwriter Fred Eaglesmith.

The harvest concert featured The Barrelmen, a country band from Saskatoon. It was the second time the band had performed in Brock to a sold-out crowd.

Simply named The Church, Speir bought the 100-year-old building a year ago when trustees put it up for sale.

“It was actually the church that all three of my kids were baptized in and my brother and sister-in-law were married in … so it’s been a big part of the community,” Speir said.

The church had sat empty for years as an aging congregation moved to the more accessible community hall.

Speir said people were happy when she bought the church to hold community events, calming fears that an outside party would buy it or tear it down.

“But I cleaned it up and there it was, it was just a gem waiting,” she said.

“And it’s cathedral style. It’s built that way so it’s on a nice lean, so everyone has a good seat. We’ve got a great stage so it’s perfect for this. Everyone wants it.”

Speir had concerns of her own that the community would not see the potential the church could offer.

“(Through) word of mouth and it sells so quick,” she said.

“It really means a lot. I always worried about that at first, whether it would work, could I get 60 people? And at our first show we had 200.”

While The Church is up and running, it takes money to keep it going.

“It’s $375 to heat it a month in the winter,” Speir said.

“It’s just bucketing heat out the windows … and it hasn’t been used at all and now we’re all in it using it on a weekly basis, it’s hard on it. So we’re fixing it up a little bit at a time.”

The shows and extra events at the centre help cover the costs.

As well, yoga sessions and preschool classes regularly take place there.

Speir lived across Canada before returning home to nearby Rosetown, Sask. She said that it was rare to find a venue available for musicians to perform in a rural community.

“I’m a housewife so (I take care of) my three kids and my garden and my yard.… this is something I can do within my own community,” she said.

“I can get this artistic side of me out but I don’t have to be in the city to do it. And you can’t lead unless they follow and unless they come and be receptive of it.”

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