Cam­paign to aid BME church goes in­ter­na­tional

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - NEWS - KARENA WAL­TER STAN­DARD STAFF kwal­ter@post­media.com

There was a $100 cheque sent in from a woman in the Detroit area who read about St. Catharines’ BME church in her small com­mu­nity pa­per.

An­other do­na­tion came in from Lon­don, Eng­land, where it was fea­tured in The Guardian. And still an­other cheque ar­rived from France.

Dona­tions of $5, $10, $20 on up to sev­eral hun­dred dol­lars have been steadily trick­ling in to the his­toric St. Catharines church’s Go Fund Me page.

“It’s an in­ter­na­tional cam­paign now,” said Rochelle Bush, who’s head­ing up the cam­paign to pre­serve Salem Chapel, Bri­tish Methodist Epis­co­pal Church on Geneva Street, where Har­riet Tub­man wor­shipped in the 1850s.

“Big dona­tions from a few peo­ple and a lot of smaller dona­tions from many peo­ple.”

Since The Stan­dard wrote about the church’s need for help on Oct. 26 — when the Go Fund Me page sat at $3,665 — count­less me­dia around the world have pub­li­cized the fundraiser and helped spread the word. The to­tal now sits at just more than $34,000.

The church has a long way to go to hit its $100,000 goal for emer­gency re­pair work, along with hun­dreds of thou­sands more for ac­ces­si­bil­ity up­grades and other fixes. But it’s enough to start at least one project.

Bush met this week with her­itage con­sult­ing firm Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Re­search As­so­ci­ates Ltd. of Kitch­ener to dis­cuss the awning over the front door, which is the top pri­or­ity.

It’s been propped up with temporary posts be­cause of sag­ging on the left side since De­cem­ber 2016.

The cost of fix­ing the awning, be­lieved to be 105 years old, won’t be known un­til an as­sess­ment can be done, but Bush said she’s hope­ful the $30,000 will cover the ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the work.

Paul Racher, vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions for ARA, said they won’t know how ex­ten­sive the awning work will be un­til the group’s her­itage con­ser­va­tion team ex­am­ines it.

“We’re go­ing to look at it and try to get a sense of what it’s con­di­tion is and whether it can be re­stored or if it’s go­ing to have to be re­placed,” he said.

Even with­out the con­nec­tion to leg­endary Un­der­ground Rail­road con­duc­tor Tub­man, Racher said a build­ing such as BME church is rare and there are very few African Methodist Epis­co­pal and Bri­tish Methodist Epis­co­pal churches left.

“It’s an unas­sum­ing build­ing in an unas­sum­ing neigh­bour­hood and then you go in­side, learn about the his­tory of the place and it’s rather as­ton­ish­ing,” he said. “Sit­ting on the cor­ner there.”

The BME church was built in 1855 by African Amer­i­can free­dom seek­ers. Its last ma­jor work was in 1957.

Bush said she’s been in con­tact with all three lev­els of gov­ern­ment to keep them in­formed of the church’s sta­tus, in­clud­ing St. Catharines Mayor Wal­ter Sendzik, Mem­ber of Provin­cial Par­lia­ment Jim Bradley and Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment Chris Bit­tle.

“Even though the church is pri­vately owned, I con­sider them stake­hold­ers,” she said. “I con­sider a lot of the com­mu­nity stake­hold­ers be­cause there’s so much in­ter­est and con­cern for the church.”

She said she also wants to make sure she goes through all the proper steps and frankly, needs help. To that end, she said mem­bers from the city’s her­itage com­mit­tee will do a walk through in the com­ing weeks. They’ll spot check ev­ery­thing and pri­or­i­tize projects that need to be done once emer­gency projects are done — re­pair­ing the awning, pur­chas­ing and in­stalling earth­quake ca­ble wires and fix­ing the gables. The front steps have also be­come a con­cern af­ter a crack that was re­paired when a ve­hi­cle hit the church a few years ago has reap­peared.

The pri­or­ity list is some­thing the church could do it­self but again, Bush said she wants more voices at the ta­ble.

Bit­tle said his of­fice is of­fer­ing what­ever as­sis­tance it can and is help­ing the church ap­ply for fed­eral fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

He said he’s men­tioned the project to the min­is­ter of her­itage and her team as some­thing that’s com­ing down the pipe.

“It’s some­thing that we’re hear­ing from res­i­dents across the city be­cause it’s such an im­por­tant part of our com­mu­nity and such a sig­nif­i­cant his­toric land­mark,” Bit­tle said. “It’s some­thing that I know all of St. Catharines cares about and that I want to push hard for in Ot­tawa, but we’re wait­ing for the ap­pli­ca­tion to be made and we’re go­ing to as­sist with what we can along the way.”

Bush said all three lev­els of gov­ern­ment are as­sist­ing in find­ing fund­ing.

In the mean­time, the Go Fund Me page will con­tinue and Bush said she’s heard from lo­cal groups who want to plan fundrais­ers on the church’s be­half for Fe­bru­ary’s Black His­tory Month.

“I’m just so thank­ful that the church will be re­stored,” she said. “We just need the money to re­pair some of the ar­eas that are dam­aged. She’s just de­te­ri­o­rat­ing in some ar­eas, which is sad.

“We’re do­ing our best, thanks to com­mu­nity sup­port and in­ter­na­tional sup­port.”

BOB TYMCZYSZYN/STAN­DARD STAFF

Rochelle Bush stands out­side Salem Chapel on Geneva Street. The church with his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance is in need of ma­jor re­pairs.

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