church bell tower against cloudy sky
Photo by Michael Hall on

Inside a former Anglican church in central Montreal, crucifixes, prayer benches and candlesticks have been replaced by books and chessboards — part of an effort by developers and community groups to breathe new life into abandoned churches.

"I really like coming here. I like the little church feel, it is conducive for concentrating," university student Alexia Delestre whispered at the Mordecai-Richler library, which is housed in the old church building.

Across the once highly religious French-speaking province of Quebec, dozens of churches have been transformed into daycare centers, spas, basketball courts, climbing centers and a cheese factory.

"In general, we do not want to destroy churches if we can preserve them because they are beautiful buildings which mark the urban space well," said Justin Bur, 58, a member of the local historical society Memoire du Mile-End. "They are important landmarks."

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