St. Catharines historic British Methodist Episcopal Church — the very one Harriet Tubman attended — is in serious need of repairs, and now the St. Catharines council may get involved.
The Geneva Street church, which was first reported as being in serious disrepair back in October of 2017, is estimated to need at least $100,000 in repairs. Since then, there have been some strong attempts at fundraising with congregation and community members alike stepping up, but there is still much left to be done.
The church, built in 1853, was an important centre of abolitionist and civil rights activity, having been founded by African-American freedom seekers. It was named a National Historic Site of Canada back in 1999 due to its design as well as its connection to the abolitionist movement. Some of the descendants of the original church-goers still attend service there today.
Some of the work that needs to be done to repair the damages to the building include earthquake straps with turnbuckles and cable wire to crank wood tight, the awning (currently being held up by two wooden posts) needs to be secured. Additionally, the frame of the building has had significance damage from the shaking traffic of Geneva Street, and the upper balcony is beginning to break away from the walls entirely. The front steps have also become a concern due to a crack that had been repaired after a car had hit the building a few years ago, which had reappeared.
Port Dalhousie council member Bruce Williamson first brought up the church’s disrepair at the council meeting on Jan. 15, showing media reports that depicted the falling state of the church. His idea is to further what volunteers have already begun through all levels of government as well as organizations, congregations and clubs within the community.
Mayor Walter Sendzik suggests that members of the British Methodist Episcopal church make a presentation to the council as well.
While the amount of money needed to repair the building is large, the community continues to strive towards helping the historic church in a number of different ways. On Halloween, students of Harriet Tubman Public School banded together to raise $1,100 for the repairs through a costume contest as well as Halloween games and a concession stand.
Additionally, a significant amount of support has come in from international sources, like a Detroit woman sending a $100 cheque after hearing about it in her own community paper. The Go Fund Me page is sitting at over $40,000 raised, and while there have been big donations by some, there have been a significant amount of small donations by many. However, there is still a long way to go before they meet their goal of $100,000.
The money raised so far will be used towards the awning first, which is the number one priority.
Rochelle Bush, a member of the church who is heading the campaign to repair the old church, states that the city’s heritage committee will be doing a walk-through of the church to determine and prioritize projects that will need to be done after the more pressing projects are completed.
If you would like to donate to help repair the British Methodist Episcopal Salem Chapel, please visit their Go Fund Me page at: https://www.gofundme.com/preserving-salem-chapel