A community organization is using a substantial portion of funding it recently acquired to restore a historic church in Oro-Medonte.
Built in 1847, the African Methodist Episcopal Church – a designated national historic site since 2003 – is the oldest African log church still standing in North America. Closed to the public because its structural integrity is compromised, the Vaughan African Canadian Association (VACA) has stepped up to the plate to save the place of worship.
Last October, VACA and the Township of Oro-Medonte collaborated to submit a funding application to the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which recently awarded VACA $121,200. A total of $94,200 will be used to help restore the church, while the remaining $27,000 will go towards developing and distributing a children’s picture book about the church and supporting an interactive historical school program.
Launched in 2003, VACA provides innovative programs and services for Vaughan’s African-Caribbean community.
“The restoration of the AME church is by far one of the most important projects we will undertake,” said VACA executive director, Shernett Martin. “It has become more than just a church being restored. It has taken on a symbolic reference of what can be achieved when communities come together. The restoration of the church has become a restoration of cultural pride. The church will once again be restored to its original glory and we look forward to opening the doors to the community.”
Oro-Medonte mayor, Harry Hughes, thanked VACA and the Ontario Trillium Foundation for their support.
“We now have the funding to move forward to save the church and have it remain as a beacon for its historical and cultural significance,” he said.
Built by freed slaves who were granted land after the War of 1812, community members preserved the church for nearly 75 years before it was abandoned in the 1920s. The Township of Oro-Medonte later took ownership of the church and adjoining cemetery to maintain and preserve the site.
It’s believed that the body of Richard Pierpoint and remains of Coloured Corps soldiers are buried in the cemetery. Born in Senegal, Pierpoint – who proposed the establishment of the all-Black military unit that was the Coloured Corps – was captured as a teenager and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to British North America, where he was sold to a military officer.
When the American Revolutionary War started, he enlisted on the British side in Butler’s Rangers that was stationed in Fort Niagara. After the war, he was granted 200 acres in St. Catharines.
A few years ago, the Township of Oro-Medonte launched the “Journey to Freedom” fundraising campaign to raise $140,000 for the restoration project. Almost $72,000 has been raised through the online campaign.