Want to vacation in an old church?

Irishtown-Summerside woman converting old church into an Airbnb

Diane Crocker is a reporter with The Telegram. This article previously appeared in that paper. DIANE CROCKER



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As Brittany Brake talks about her plans to convert the former Bethany United Church in Irishtown-Summerside into an Airbnb, you can sense her passion for the project. Brake, who lives in Gillams, purchased the church with her husband, Michael Brake, almost a year ago, but the project has become all hers. Originally from Kitchener, Ont., Brittany moved to Newfoundland in July 2018. In Ontario, she was caught up in the fast pace of corporate life with not much time to explore her creative side, so she only realized she had an interest in interior design when she redid the house she and her husband live in. That sparked her desire to do more and it was only a couple of nights before finding out the church was for sale that she talked about doing a project like this or some sort of house flipping with her husband. “I wanted something different. So, I knew I wanted to create a business opportunity for myself.” And getting into the Airbnb or rental property business was on her list of possibilities. “On this side of the bay, we only have a few Airbnbs; there’s not really that many.” Living in Newfoundland, Brittany said she loves the west coast and knows it has so much to offer. On the north shore of the Bay of Islands, there are many opportunities for visitors, from hiking trails to snowmobile trails, beaches, fantastic views and boat launches. “And it would be nice to attract more (people) over on this side of the bay. So, I wanted to create something that gave people an opportunity or a pull to come to this side of the bay to sort of explore.” The church had closed and been decommissioned in 2019, but when she learned it was available, it just seemed to fit her plan. Its location was perfect as Irishtown-Summerside is centrally located on the north shore and there is a store close by. She also looked at it from the perspective of a potential visitor and thought it would be kind of funky to stay at an Airbnb that was once a church. BIG PLANS The Brakes purchased the church in December 2021. “It took me a bit to get my vision,” Brittany said. And now that she’s found it, she goes through days of being super excited and days when she’s terrified. “For me, it’s one thing to build this and create something that I would love. I’ve just got hope that after that, I’m creating something that other people would love to stay in as well.” There was a little delay in starting construction, but since August, things have been moving along. She plans to put two bedrooms on the main floor, along with a kitchen. There will be another bedroom downstairs, a rec room, and a laundry room, as well as bathrooms on each floor. Outside, a deck will wrap from the front around to the back, providing a place to sit and look at the view of the bay. After removing the drop ceiling and raising it as high as possible and following the shape of the roof, she was able to put in a loft above a portion of the main floor that could provide more sleeping areas or just a place to relax and hang out. It will be modern but with a homey bay vibe, she explains. HONOURING HERITAGE And Brake plans to incorporate parts of the church in the renovation, including repurposing a pew, the pulpit and some lights. The original Bethany United Church sign will remain, as will a plaque commemorating the church’s 80th anniversary. The two wooden doors at the main entrance will get a fresh coat of paint and a piece of the blue carpet that was once found throughout the church will still be used. Any items that were donated to the church that have plaques attached will be used or displayed somewhere. The steeple will be reinforced so the outside of the building will still look like a church and Brake is hoping that will raise curiosity about what’s inside. She already sees the possibility of incorporating some other tourism opportunities, like boat tours and fish fries on the beach, into the venture. For now, she hopes to start renting the yet-to-be-named property around Christmas. Eventually, she’ll look at selling the property as an investment opportunity for someone else. “And then try to do it all over again somewhere else.”