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Society going ahead with restoration of 110-year-old Alberta church destroyed by arson

Community group meets to discuss ways they can restore the historic building which was the victim of arson

BARRHEAD – There are still a lot of unknowns for St. Aidan's Community Church of Glenreagh and Bloomsbury Society, but the one thing they do know is that they are committed to restoring the historic structure.

That is the decision a group of between 30 and 40 people unanimously came up with during a meeting on Dec. 19 at the Glenreagh Community Hall.

The organization called the meeting following a devastating Dec. 7 fire that caused considerable damage to the 110-year-old structure. Reverend William Seymour Dallas constructed the building with volunteers as part of the Paddle River Mission.

The building and its contents were not insured.

The fire was one of two that happened that night, the other being St. Mary Abbots Anglican, better known as the Pioneer Memorial Church near the Hamlet of Thunder Lake.

Unfortunately, the church did not fare as well and was destroyed.

Police believe the cause of the fires to be arson and that they are most likely connected due to the proximity and the timing. 

"I guess the question is, do we want to preserve the building, or do we want to say goodbye," Brenda Baron chaired the meeting.

Baron then asked how many people wanted to attempt to restore the church, calling for a show of hands.

The discussion then moved to how they would fund the restoration and what level the group thought appropriate.

Scott Strawson, visited the site the morning after the fire and said although much of the damage was cosmetic, there was also significant structural damage. He was concerned about liability and making the site safe.

He later suggested, and the group agreed, that the first step should be to cover or board the damaged areas, especially the roof, to prevent further deterioration.

Earlier in the meeting, Baron said although the society, incorporated in 1975, has some funds available, much more is needed.

Complicating things further is the adjacent cemetery, which Baron said qualifies them as a "religious society" and, therefore, under Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis Commission [AGLC] rules, takes away some potential fundraising options.

However, she said they could get a raffle licence, potentially raising a maximum of $10,000, and if they so chose, they would be eligible for casino funding.

She also noted that the society does not have charitable status, which means they cannot issue tax receipts.

As for how much it would cost to restore the building, Scott Strawson said the sky's the limit.

"It depends on what you want to do and how far you want to take it," he said.

The fire, which started outside on the porch, completely incinerated the vestibule, and the west wall suffered structural damage, as did the roof. This is in addition to the smoke and water damage.

"We know [from experience as the society did repairs on the roof 20 years ago] that the roof will cost at least $20,000, and the west wall could be another $20,000. It also depends if we put the [porch/vestibule] back on and if the inside floor is still [structurally sound]," Strawson said. "[The bill] could easily be $100,000."

In addition to the undisclosed amount the society has to maintain the adjacent cemetery, Baukje Strawson, on their behalf, started a GoFundMe page, which at the time of the meeting had raised $2,370.

Baron said the church does not qualify for the designation of provincial historical resource, saying this is partially due to the repairs to the building that the society undertook 20 years ago, such as vinyl siding.

Properzi suggested one way to reduce restoration costs is to enlist Barrhead Composite High School's (BCHS) construction students, saying he knows they've taken on projects in the past.

"I know we did the Clubhouse when I was in school," he said.

Properzi also suggested they contact Northplex, who have the people, experience and equipment to do the work.

He also suggested they approach Keyera Corp., an energy company that recently completed pipeline work in the area.

"I see they have made some large contributions locally, and they might be willing to do so again," Properzi said but admitted the society's lack of charitable status could be a hindrance.

Multiple people also suggested that much of the work could be done by volunteers.

"I'm pretty handy with a hammer," a man from Bloomsbury said. "Once you have a plan, you don't necessarily need a contractor at $70 to $80 an hour."

However, multiple people pointed out potential liability and insurance concerns of volunteers doing the work.

"That's why I was thinking we could do the work in stages," Glen Baron said. "We could do what we could afford, and volunteers could do some of the inside, lower work or things such as removing debris, which is less dangerous and might not require insurance."

The meeting concluded with the society agreeing that more information, especially about the condition of the church and estimated costs to repair.

The society also committed to meet again in April.

For more information or if you would like to donate to the cause, contact Glen and Brenda Baron at 780-699-5788 or Scott and Sharee Strawson, especially if anyone has information on construction and restoration.

The public can also donate through the society's GoFundMe page, which can be found by going to the website and typing Glenreagh-Bloomsbury-Church under the search option.

Barry Kerton,

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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