Cape Breton Church Celebration to Highlight Strength of Community Volunteers
GRAND MIRA SOUTH, NS — It will be a celebration of community resilience and perseverance.
For over two centuries, St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Grand Mira South has been a place of worship for the community, a meeting place and a beacon for residents to come together and celebrate significant community events and of the family.
In 2021, the community had hoped to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary, but measures imposed as part of efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 forced a postponement of the celebration until this year.
“We’ve been distracted by the pandemic,” said Francis Gillis, who heads the parish’s finance committee.
Moving forward undeterred, the community is now planning a three-day celebration that will take place July 29-31.
Gillis said between 150 and 200 people are expected to attend the festivities which will mark not only the anniversary but also the community’s dedication and commitment to maintaining and strengthening the parish.
“We will also celebrate all the volunteer work it takes to lead a church. We will remember everyone who came before us,” he said.
The first Scottish settlers arrived in the community in 1826 and in 1833, under the leadership of Father Michael McKeagney of the Bras d’Or Mission, a small log chapel was erected and dedicated to St. Peter.
In 1871 the newly ordained priest, Fr. Archie Chisholm was appointed to the Grand Mira Church and one of his first tasks was to replace the log chapel with a new church.
The new structure was built in the Tudor Gothic style and the original supports were harvested from timber in Glengarry, Scotland.
The new church was dedicated to Saint Margaret of Scotland who was known for her work with the poor.
“The church has played such an important role in the community and helped keep it united and strong,” said Gillis, who retired to his hometown about 20 years ago.
But looking to the future, the community, like so many other rural areas, faces a shortage of young volunteers.
Sadie MacNeil, a member of the organizing committee, noted that the number of volunteers is decreasing as the community ages and young people seek jobs and other opportunities elsewhere.
“But we are seeing people coming back and hopefully that will help rebuild things,” said MacNeil, who is a life member of the parish.
The Grand Mira Sud and surrounding communities have long been a summer haven for many and continue to attract those seeking a rural setting for rest, relaxation and summer recreational activities.
Bert Gillis, who leads the parish council, is one of those who have returned home to retire and hasn’t hesitated to get involved in the parish.
“I’m excited about the drive and effort to keep this parish going and we’re seeing a real influx of people into the community which hopefully means a new generation will get involved as well,” Gillis said.
Francis Gillis said that as one of the oldest parishes on the island, the community takes great pride in its financial viability which he attributes to the hard work of community volunteers over the years.
The July event will kick off with a Celtic concert featuring Joe Gillis and local talent on July 29 at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, the community will hold its annual family picnic and very popular roast beef supper.
The weekend will end with a celebratory mass at 11 a.m. followed by a community supper at the Grand Mira Community Hall.
The dinner has only a limited number of tickets which can be reserved by contacting Bert Gillis (902-727-2861) or John Curtis (902-727-2556).
“We invite the entire community and parishioners, past and present, to visit our church and see how we continue to connect people and lift spirits,” said Francis Gillis.