About 50 people attended a “Save the Bishop’s House” meeting at St. Raphael’s Community Centre last Wednesday night, an encouraging sign for the group looking to preserve the two-century-old landmark.

“We’re very pleased with the turnout, especially since it was kind of on short notice,” said Brenda Baxter, a member of the Glengarry Fencibles Trust. And we’ve been getting emails from people who have really been supportive, so that’s been great.”

Tish Humphries, another member of the Fencibles Trust, was “delighted” with the turnout for the meeting. Mrs. Humphries hopes to see the Bishop’s House restored and on display as an addition to the list of the area’s significant historical sites. “My mother attended Iona Academy ( a latter incarnation of the Bishop’s House), and three of our daughters, who are all teachers today, went to (the present, neighbouring) Iona Academy,” she said.

“I’ve spend hundreds of hours at the school, volunteering and raising money … and I always thought that it was a shame that that building really didn’t have a connection to the present school.

“It has a future and I think it could be such a wonderful asset … It’s just unbelievable that they’re thinking of tearing it down.” Mrs. Humphries also commented on the broad appeal of the entire locale, including the nearby St. Raphael’s Ruins, and how that would be enhanced by the presence of a renovated Bishop’s House. “While I was sitting here, in the front (during the meeting), I had a perfect view … of six Harleys driving up, across the road,” she said.

“The riders all got off their bikes, and walked around the whole (Ruins) property … and I just thought, ‘Wow.’”

Four members of the Fencibles Trust – Mrs. Baxter; Cheryl Rogers; Allan Macdonell, the group’s president; and Dane Lanken – along with architect Ron Rayside of Montreal-based Rayside Labossière Architecte, who’s been involved with the Bishop’s House project for the past decade – spoke to the crowd assembled in St. Raphael’s.

Mr. Rayside, who was accompanied by colleague Andrée Lalonde, has roots in Glengarry and pointed out that he also has a home in South Lancaster “that was built 15 years before the Bishop’s House.”

He explained that his firm “does a lot of social architecture … helping communities and organizations like the Fencibles get space either renovated or bought,” and that he is looking forward to seeing the group realize its “vision of occupying the building.”

Mr. Lanken perhaps best summed up the Fencibles’ frustration with the obstacle they’ve faced to date in preserving the Bishop’s House. “I don’t like to criticize or anything, but I find it very disappointing that these organizations (the Alexandria-Cornwall Diocese and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario – the building’s co-owners), which have the aim of the betterment, education and spiritual well-being of society, can be so indifferent, or even hostile, to a building like this that is so essential to our history and important on so many levels,” said Mr. Lanken. “We are all citizens and we have a duty to do things beyond what we are paid to do, or what it’s our job to do … Looking after the symbols of our history is just a basic part of good citizenship. This building could be, and should be a central part of the historic fabric of Glengarry County … I certainly hope it will be soon, ” he added.

The future of the Bishop’s House will be decided by the end of July, after South Glengarry township received an application for a demolition permit for the structure from the local diocese on April 21. Council has 90 days from that date to review the application and make a decision regarding whether to first remove the municipal historic designation it affixed to the Bishop’s House in 2011, and then either issue the demolition permit or deny the request.

At the May 11 regular South Glengarry council meeting – during which the Fencibles Trust made an open-session presentation to council and administration – Mayor Ian McLeod said a staff report on the Bishop’s House will likely be prepared for the June 8 regular meeting.

Mrs. Baxter said last week that council seems to be “sympathetic” with the efforts of the Fencibles Trust to save the Bishop’s House.

© The Glengarry News, Wednesday, June 03, 2015. pg 5

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