Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, January 17, 2011

Salvation? Of course.That's church business..

Not long ago, I obtained a copy of a lovely book titled Rural Ontario from my favourite out-of-print bookseller, AbeBooks. The evocative black and white photographs of Ralph Greenhill and the intelligent commentary by land and heritage preservationist Verschoyle Benson Blake affected me deeply, no more so than when the book (published in 1969) would highlight the beauty and history of a building that is now no more.

I felt a special heartache when I read the description accompanying plate 58. "The Stone Church, Sidney Township, Hastings County" according to the text, was "no longer in use and threatened with destruction". Oh no, another worthy building gone....and part of the rare cobblestone building history of this area.

About the same time, my house guru Lois provided me with a copy of an ACO Quinte tour itinerary of Sidney township done a decade ago, to help me with some cobblestone research, and I began driving and discovering. Much to my delight, as I crossed Wallbridge Road at Tucker's Corners, I found the church! A miracle! The church was saved! Despite the poor late-cloudy-day light, I stopped and took some photos. According to the tour leaflet, the cobblestone artistry can be attributed to a Mr. Wickett of Foxboro. Blake draws attention to the shaped stone arches around the windows and doors, superior to the "simply shaped holes in the wall" featured in many of the Paris Ontario cobblestones.

I photographed the church, stopped to admire the serene churchyard and studied the OHF plaque. I wondered about the cheery designs painted on the doors and windows, and the bird motif above the door.

A few weeks later I returned to the church, to try another photo in (slightly) better light. A gentleman pulled up beside me in the tiny parking lot to ask what I was about (how grand that the neighbourhood keeps an eye on the place, I thought). I explained that the local ACO had toured the area and visited the church in 1990 and showed him the tour itinerary.

It turns out I was in the man's driveway! He remembered that ACO tour well, having just become the owner of the church, since become his home and gallery! And so it was that Dennis Noble and I spent a jolly 10 minutes talking about cobblestones and heritage and cubism and Indian art. The owner of the church is a well-known artist, retired from the bright downtown gallery scene to establish this small art museum of his work. I recognized the significance of the designs as Leger-inspired, when Dennis brought me out a brochure about the collection and two postcards.

Coincidentally, Dennis also had just received a copy of the Blake/Greenhill book and we recalled the photo in the book and the writer's gloomy prediction. How inspiring that an artist recognized the artistry in the little stone church. How wonderful that another heritage building has been repurposed. How hopeful we are to hear more stories like this, in these days following the loss of the Empress/Edison hotel in Toronto.

1 comment:

  1. Well, what a perfectly lovely ending to what could have become an unfortunate demise. I recently found a former church - now a renovated home - for sale near Eldorado and was sorely tempted...but the next time I looked for it online, it was gone. Sold? Or taken off the market? Do you know there are websites dealing exclusively with old churches for sale?