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B.C. family moves across Canada to transform historic Saint John church logo 2020-01-14 CBC/Radio-Canada

Kyla Reschny remembers it was a cold Yukon night when she was flipping through realtor listings and first set eyes on St. Jude's. 

The former Anglican Church on Saint John's west side, built in 1859, has been sitting vacant since 2012 and was falling into disrepair, but Reschny said she was drawn to it.

"I think it was just a bucket list item," she said.

"I kind of always wanted like a spooky house or something with a little character and a little history to it as well. And I think that comes from maybe being an archaeologist, that interest in the past."

Reschny said she and her husband, Jamie, are the adventurous type and keen to experience as much of the world as they can — a departure from their families who've remained in the town they were born.

They bought the church for $100,000 and closed Jan. 17, 2019, before eventually travelling across the country and arriving in Saint John with their youngest daughter that May. 

'It smelled terrible'

A year later, Reschny reflected on uprooting their lives on the west coast to pursue a wild dream.

"It smelled terrible, it was really musty and cold and dirty and just crowded with junk. And then leaky ceilings, puddles on the floor, ice in the gym, stuff like that," said Reschny, who grew up in northeastern British Columbia.

The family was overwhelmed by the amount of old furniture, the boxes of hymnals and Bibles and Girl Guides stuff, the 19-foot-long closet stuffed with quilts — an endless pile of odds and ends Reschny had to look past to see the building's charm and potential.

"Coming from B.C., unless you live in the major centres like Vancouver, you don't get the architecture that you get here," she said. "Underneath all the junk you could see the shape of it was really interesting."

They packed two dumpsters worth of garbage, after donations and recycling, and they're still working through the nearly 20,000 square feet of space, complete with the old church hall, gymnasium, pipe organ and bell tower.

The bell is still there, but it's locked in place, she said — another project on the to-do list.

a large organ: The old St. Jude's organ is still intact and functioning. © Julia Wright/CBC The old St. Jude's organ is still intact and functioning.

They had to replumb the place after the previous owner, who purchased the building from the church, took out copper piping.

She figured they've plunked about $50,000 in renovations to the Lancaster Avenue building, and there's still much to do, including renovating the church sanctuary.

Standing among the pews and stained glass, Reschy said she wanted to preserve some of the church atmosphere while transforming it into a home. Understanding the history and significance of the church is important to her.

'Everyone's super curious'

It didn't take long after settling in to learn many people wanted to know what was to come of the old church. 

"Everyone's super curious for sure," she said 

a person standing in front of a building: Reschny stands in the church sanctuary, the next big job on the couple's renovation list. © Julia Wright/CBC Reschny stands in the church sanctuary, the next big job on the couple's renovation list.

"It's sat here for years just with nothing happening and so I think you know people saw us working a little and planting trees, but they didn't really know what was going on here. And then when we started painting the outside people, I don't know, they always walk their dog this way or they made a point of just strolling by and stopping for a conversation.

"We met a lot of people and people from out of town that were just coming back through and had gone here as children or kids or teenagers."

A man in his 80s stopped by to tell them he used to attend services there as a teenager and operated the projector. Another neighbour told them his Scouts meeting were held in the hall.

a living room filled with furniture and a large window: Over the past few months, Reschny has transformed the former church kitchen. © Julia Wright/CBC Over the past few months, Reschny has transformed the former church kitchen.

Most people were excited the building's being saved from demolition, she said.

A young couple is also restoring the rectory next door.

"So, basically we're fixing up the whole block."

When it comes to tackling such a large reno job, she said they don't have fine technical or trade skills but plenty of determination and tenacity.

The experience isn't new, however. They've renovated homes before and even built a previous family home. 

"But most everything is just elbow grease and not being afraid to try."

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