Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are replacing a decades-old roof on a Cape Breton church in an effort to help save the historic landmark.

Five hundred troops are in Cape Breton taking part in various training exercises, including at the former St. Alphonsus Church, offering manpower and labour free of charge.

“We do a lot of overseas deployments and these are the kinds of things we do,” says military member Michael Galbiati-Bourasaa. “For me, as a construction technician, a lot of times I have engineers that work beneath me, so they don’t get this kind of training, so they depend on this stuff to get their hands-on training.”

The 101-year-old church in Victoria Mines was slated for demolition, but the Stone Church Restoration Society raised $40,000 to buy it from the Diocese of Antigonish.

The society has been negotiating with the diocese for three years, and while they have agreed on a purchase price, they still don’t have the deed in their hands.

The roof project had to be delayed five days, with the military on standby, as the society waited for permission from the diocese to proceed.

“I’m glad that the project is going forth, but it was very stressful and very frustrating worrying from day to day if the plug was going to have to be pulled on it, because we still don’t have a deed, after waiting 17 months for it,” says society member Melanie Sampson.

The military was also supposed to provide heating and electrical upgrades, but Sampson says they won’t be completed, due to the delays with the diocese.

“Their lawyer, who just started working on it a week ago Monday, has said he’s working on this in a very quick manner now,” says Sampson. “As of last Monday he hired a paralegal to get on it right away. However, it’s been too long and it’s come at an ultimate price.”

While Sampson is frustrated by how long it’s taking to finalize the sale of the church, she says she’s grateful the military has stepped in to help.

“It’s a big phase for us. It would cost a lot more money if we had to get the labour, scaffolding, and the man lift,” she says. “What the military is contributing is huge and we can never thank them enough. We will be forever grateful.”

The project is on schedule to be finished by Nov. 20.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Kyle Moore