The former British Methodist Church (BME) in Guelph, which was a refuge for freed slaves who made their way to Canada via the Underground Railroad, has been designated a heritage site.
The historic building erected in 1880 by Guelph’s Black community is now in the hands of the Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS), which was established after the building was listed for sale.
Former pastor Erica Davis took the church to court, claiming that its trustees transferred the property title to her as compensation for outstanding wages. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the BME church, which sold the property to the GBHS.
“The preservation of the history of the Black presence in Ontario is not just about Black history, but the history of the province,” said Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship & Immigration, Michael Coteau, who attended the GBHS inaugural Emancipation event last Saturday at which the church building was granted heritage status. “This preservation is an expression of freedom which we now all enjoy.”
In addition to the formal heritage designation, the event included drumming, storytelling and dance.
“We just wanted to help the community learn a bit more about the history of the Black community in Guelph and Wellington County,” said GBHS founding president, Marva Wisdom.
The GBHS is attempting to raise $500,000 to help pay the mortgage and refurbish the building.
“It’s coming slowly as most fundraising is these days,” said Wisdom. “We are still waiting on the charity status confirmation and then we will proceed with more fundraising efforts.”
Starting with nearly 40 worshippers, the church closed in 1974 because of a dwindling congregation. It was reopened a decade later for use by a local Baptist group.
Individuals can visit www.guelphblackheritage.ca to see how to make pledges and donations.
By RON FANFAIR