gothic church climbing gym climb 1884
Church of St. John the Baptist, New Brunswick. (photo/Dave Alston)

Divine Ascents: Gothic Church Transformed Into Climbing Gym

Two New Brunswick locals bought an unused 137-year-old church. Their plan to turn it into a climbing gym promises a one-of-a-kind space.

Ever felt the urge to send in the presence of the Holy Ghost without, well, paying the ultimate price? Soon, you can make your vision come true with a trip to New Brunswick, Canada. That’s where David and Mary-Gwen Alston bought the Church of St. John the Baptist, a 19th-century Gothic church they’re converting into a climbing gym. Climb 1884 will open in 2022.

The new owners propose up to 8,000 square feet of climbing on surfaces up to 42 feet tall, which would make the indoor gym New Brunswick’s biggest. They’ll also keep as much of the existing architecture as they can intact, including the elaborate stained glass windows.


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Altared? Climbing Gym Conversion Logistics

Nearly 137 years ago, the Church of St. John the Baptist was built in the Gothic revival tradition — a popular aesthetic at that time. And for the next 134 years, it served its congregation in the town of, coincidentally, St. John, New Brunswick, Canada.

But in 2018, the local diocese closed it and nine other churches in town (for reasons that remain unclear — the Lord works in mysterious ways).

The diocese did mention that they didn’t want to see the building torn down. Recognizing a rare opportunity, the Alstons stepped in.

The two already owned Timber Top Adventures, a zipline park in the area. So the prospect of turning a century-and-a-half-old church into a climbing gym … spoke to them? Something or Someone must have, and the two shortly owned the space.

They’ll now undertake a remodeling process that, to our knowledge, is unprecedented: retrofitting a historic place of worship with a climbing gym (without destroying the stained glass and woodwork).

gothic church climbing gym
Church of St. John the Baptist, New Brunswick; (photo/Dave Alston)

“The plan is to, over the next 6 to 8 months, bring the church up to what we need it to be in terms of a modern building, in terms of, you know, new roof, new brickwork, new modern heating system, and other types of things inside,” David Alston told CBC’s Information Morning Saint John.

“We absolutely love the architecture, absolutely love the stained glass windows, the vibe that’s in there, so none of that’s going to be changed. In fact, we’re going to celebrate that as part of the … vibe inside of the climbing gym.”

Make the pilgrimage yourself in 2022; meanwhile, keep track of the project via the Climb 1884 website or Instagram.

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Sam Anderson

Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.