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Tragedy in Shrewsbury

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--February 4, 2014. the weekend of January 12 and 13, St. John's Church in Shrewsbury, in the Municipality of Gore, in the Laurentians, was the victim of an apparent arson attack that completely destroyed the small wooden structure dating from 1858. Some of the funding that was to be directed towards repairs and renovations is now being set aside as reward money for information leading to the capture the perpetrators of this totally senseless and vicious crime against local heritage.

Scott Pearce, Mayor of Gore, stated that his community is devastated by this event, but that they have already plans to continue on with restoration of the site. They most probably will erect a cairn in memory of the church. Pearce said that since the deconsecration of St. John's in 2010, when it became the property of the town of Gore, he and a group of volunteers had been working on the building, replacing damaged woodwork and painting the exterior.

There has been a sad history of vandalism at St.John's. The bell was stolen, the interior, including an antique organ, trashed, and headstones in the surrounding cemetery have been broken several times. Unfortunately, St. John's was in a very isolated location, far from main roads with no permanent residences anywhere close to it.

The hamlet of Shrewsbury, although one of the first settlements by Irish and Scots pioneers in the Lower Laurentians, lost its population by the 1940s. All that remained was this Anglican church to which many local people, some descendants of the pioneer settlers, returned to for a few services in the summers. St. John's was frequently written about in Montreal newspapers and latterly on the Internet, as an example of a surviving heritage site.

QAHN has featured the story of the Shrewsbury settlement and its church and cemetery both in articles and in our Cemetery Heritage project (CHIRI). Shrewsbury was also the setting for Margaret Cook's novel, Land Possessed – a local sensation when published in 1969 – and Don Stewart's historical drama, Nature's Victory, first performed in 2005.

However, Shrewsbury's church and cemetery also tended to attract negative attention from pseudo “ghost seekers” and outright vandals who, even after some were apprehended, still continued to damage the property. This problem became so impossible to stop that in December of 2010, the Anglican Diocese of Montreal reluctantly chose to deconsecrate the church. The Municipality of Gore then had hoped to create a seasonal community centre there, while maintaining the historical cemetery.

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