Commemorative Church

Classified Federal Heritage Building

Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia
Side view of the Memorial Chapel, showing the simple steeple set on the roof just behind the main entrance, and the steeply pitched copper roof with bell-cast eaves, 1991. (© Canadian Parks Service, Atlantic Regional Office/ Service canadien des parcs, Bureau régional de l'Atlantique, 1991.)
Side view
(© Canadian Parks Service, Atlantic Regional Office/ Service canadien des parcs, Bureau régional de l'Atlantique, 1991.)
Address : Grand-Pré National Historic Site of Canada, Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia

Recognition Statute: Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
Designation Date: 1992-05-14
  • 1922 to 1922 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • René-Arthur Fréchet  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Memorial Chapel  (Other Name)
Custodian: Parks Canada
FHBRO Report Reference: 91-168
DFRP Number: 02750 00

Description of Historic Place

The dominant structure in Grand-Pré National Historic Site, the Grand-Pré Commemorative Church is a simple, rectangular-plan stone building with a steeply pitched bell-cast roof. It has a simple front-end gable, and above the large front double doors is a round window containing a stained glass depiction of the Acadian expulsion. The Church interior is illuminated by small arched windows, which pierce the sidewalls. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Commemorative Church is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.

Historical Value:
The Commemorative Church in Grand-Pré is one of the best examples of a structure built to present and commemorate the Acadian expulsion as popularized in the poem of Evangeline by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow. The Grand-Pré site is commonly accepted as the location where the Acadians were held before the deportation. The site is also associated with the historian John Frederic Herbin, who formed the Grand-Pré Preservation-Restoration and Acadian-Longfellow Memorial Movement, with the aim of purchasing the present site and developing it as an Acadian memorial.

Architectural Value:
The Commemorative Church is a very good example of a structure built in the traditional Quebec manner. Its value lies in its emulated eighteenth century French Regime design, and in its French vernacular architectural influence, as exemplified by the flared eaves. Its value also lies in the very good quality of its materials and craftsmanship.

Environmental Value:
The Commemorative Church is the dominant structure in Grand-Pré National Historic Park and establishes the historic character of the area. It is a familiar and symbolic landmark to both residents and visiting tourists.

Sources: Shannon Rickets, Grand-Pré National Historic Site, Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia. Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Report 91-168; Memorial Chapel / Commemorative Church, Grand-Pré, National Historic Park, Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia., Heritage Character Statement 91-168.

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Commemorative Church should be respected.

Its early settlement inspired design and good quality materials and craftsmanship as evidenced in: the simple rectangular plan; the simple steeple set on the roof just behind the main entrance, and the steeply pitched copper roof with bell-cast eaves; the twin stone chimneys of rough-cut fieldstone placed towards the rear of the building; the rough-cut fieldstone exterior walls; the unobstructed interior designed to act as a museum, with its barrel-vaulted
space, wide double doors, side windows and large round window with stained glass window over the entrance; the interior mouldings on the vault and wall with dentiled cornice and window surrounds.

The manner in which the Commemorative Church is an important symbolic landmark establishing the present character of the historic site within the scenic landscape of Grand-Pré National Historic Site.

Heritage Character Statement

Disclaimer - The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.

The Commemorative Church was built in 1922 by the Société Nationale de l'Assomption, with the assistance of the Dominion Atlantic Railway, as an Acadian commemorative monument. The Commemorative Church became the property of Parks Canada in 1957, at which time structural repairs were undertaken and the interior remodeled. See FHBRO Building Report 91-168.

Reasons For Designation

The Commemorative Church was designated Classified for its association with the commemoration of Canadian history and the promotion of tourism through the construction of monuments; for the French Regime architectural antecedents in its design; and for its importance as a national symbol of Acadian history and culture.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw an increased interest in Canada in the preservation of historic sites and in the commemoration of historically significant events and people. To commemorate the expulsion of the Acadians, historian John Frederic Herbin proposed the creation of a park at the supposed location of the Acadian parish church on the Minas Basin. The development of the Grand-Pré Commemorative Church and Park was the result of the combined efforts of the Société Nationale de l'Assomption, a society interested in Acadian history, and the Dominion Atlantic Railway, which promoted tourism in the interests of increased rail traffic. The Acadian expulsion had attained legendary status with the publication in the mid-1800s of the poem Evangeline by American author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Recognizing the popularity of the heroine among American tourists to the region, the Dominion Atlantic Railway provided funds to develop and promote the Land of Évangeline.

The Commemorative Church, intended to evoke the original Acadian church, was designed by Moncton architect René-Arthur Fréchet, possibly inspired by the ideas of Montreal architect Percy Nobbs. Nobbs, who was trained in the Arts and Crafts tradition in Britain and interested in Canadian vernacular architecture, also designed the surrounding park. Canadian sculptor Philippe Hébert created a statue to represent the mythical Évangeline for the park. The site quickly became an Acadian emblem and a popular tourist destination. The Church, the focal point of the park, continues to be visited by tourists and Acadian pilgrims from across North America, and is a national landmark.

Character Defining Elements

The heritage character of the Commemorative Church resides in its evocation of vernacular design, as evidenced in its massing, materials, and interior detailing; and in its historic setting.

The architect represented the original Acadian parish church with a design based on eighteenth-century French Regime churches from Québec. This design aesthetic is expressed in the rectangular plan, steeply-pitched bell-cast roof, simple steeple, ocular window in the gable, and round-headed multi-paned windows.

Similarly, the use of traditional building materials, such as the rough-cut fieldstone cladding and copper trim, emulated French Regime design. Removal of copper from the gutters and belfry has reduced this design relationship.

The unobstructed interior of the church was designed to function as a museum, as reflected in its open barrel-vaulted space, wide double doors, side windows, and large lunette over the entrance, while the "sacristy" served as a meeting room. A stained glass window, installed in the lunette in 1986, is in keeping with the original intentions of the architects. Renovations to the interior in 1957 involved the removal of the original quarry-tile floor and marble dado, possibly for structural reasons. The remaining original interior finishes, including vault and wall mouldings, denticulated cornice and window surrounds are typical of French Renaissance style as interpreted by Fréchet. Much of the surrounding landscaped park designed by Nobbs remains unchanged since the 1920s, although the original main access from the railway station no longer exists.