Former Saint John church to become New Brunswick's largest climbing gym

A former Saint John church is about to be turned into New Brunswick’s largest indoor climbing gym.

The name of the new facility, Climb 1884, is a tribute to the year Saint John the Baptist Church was built in the city’s uptown.

The church was one of nine Catholic churches closed within the Saint John Diocese in 2018

The couple behind the project, David and Mary-Gwen Alston, already operate an outdoor adventure company in Saint John and were looking to expand into a spacious indoor space with high ceilings.

The deal was made public over the New Brunswick Day long weekend. Former church parishioners are reaching out to the couple on social media platforms to share relief about the building being saved.

"You’d hate to see these wonderful pieces of history go to the wayside if you can avoid it," says David, adding people are reaching out to see if they can acquire a wooden church pew.

The building still has its stained glass windows which will remain.

"The detail in each one of these stain glass windows is amazing," says David. "The architecture we see up above, the gothic architecture created 137 years, is something you would never see today."

CLIMBING COMMUNITY EXCITED

The new indoor gym is meant to complement existing climbing facilities located across the province, says David.

While there are other locations specializing in boulder climbing, Climb 1884 will focus on rope climbing.

The floor-to-ceiling height in the middle of the church altar is 42 feet, which is creating excitement in the local climbing community.

"What the church provides is the steepness that most climbers are looking in climbing routes and an indoor gym," says Greg Hughes, president of Ascent New Brunswick, a non-for-profit organization acquiring and preserving climbing locations.

Hughes says the architecture of the former church will also provide opportunities.

"It’s really nice to have inverted walls so you can make roofs or overhangs that just tend to be more interesting and fun to climb. That is what the church is going to excel at," says Hughes.

CLOSURES AND CONSOLIDATIONS

Churches have been closing and merging across the region, with former faith venues being transformed into everything from homes to restaurants.

"It’s kind of an interesting scenario to become a specialist in church sales," says realtor Jason Steven, who has sold two former churches in Saint John, including Saint John the Baptist Church.

"There were multiple people interested in this property."

"These sorts of properties are really treasured. It was a unique offering for sure that had many multi dimensional uses. I’m just happy it will be repurposed," he says.

The former church will receive a new roof as part of its renovations and repairs.

Climb 1884 is set to open in spring 2022.