December 31, 2016
STANDARD-FREEHOLDER, front page
ST. RAPHAEL’S — An historic building in St. Raphael’s that was possibly headed for demolition two years ago seems to now have a very bright future.
The Bishop’s House, the “old” Iona Academy, will soon begin to be restored with a $200,000 project that’ll see the roof replaced, some windows repaired and some select interior demolition taking place.
And it gets even better: $2 million could be earmarked for much more of the long-term project to take place, if the Glengarry Fencibles Trust can raise its share of $1 million by the end of March.
“We’re so grateful that this truly beautiful heritage building is being recognized, and that the public may soon be able to share in its potential,” said Brenda Baxter, president of the Glengarry Fencibles Trust charitable group that acquired the Bishop’s House last March after helping to save it from demolition in 2015.
The renovation/restoration efforts gained much more clarity last December when the Fencibles were waiting to take possession of the building from the Catholic Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall. The group applied for a Parks Canada Cost-Sharing Grant for buildings under threat on National Historic Sites, and the Fencibles group was able to raise the $100,000 required by last March 31, and the overall $200,000 project was approved last summer.
Drawings were done by the group’s architect, Andrée Lalonde of Montreal architecture firm Rayside Labossière.
Now, the winning tender for the contract has been announced: Bourgon Construction, the lone local applicant, and the contract is expected to be signed early in the new year, the work completed by the end of March.
But more work – much more – will eventually be done.
“A truly remarkable aspect of (the process) is that Parks Canada has invited us to submit another proposal, and this time they are willing to cost-share up to ($1 million),” Baxter said. ‘We’re over the moon.”
Baxter said the group “scrambled” to raise the money a year ago, but the generosity of private donors “from coast-to-coast” helped get the job done.
Now, the new campaign has the group looking to raise $1 million in the next three months, an effort that’ll include assistance from philanthropic donations and the Fencibles reaching out to more businesses.
“The $1 million is absolutely what we’re aiming for,” Baxter said. “The building is beautiful, the story is compelling . . . it makes our job easier.”
The Bishop’s House is the former home of the first Ontario diocese bishop, Alexander Macdonell. It was 18 months ago in the summer of 2015 when the residence was on the verge of being demolished by its property owner, the Catholic Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall.
But an agreement was reached to turn over the Bishop’s House to the Fencibles, a group of residents trying to find ways of preserving the historic structure that dates back to 1808.
The Fencibles paid a nominal $2 to acquire the building and a strip of land that adjoins it to County Road 18.
The deal came after more than a decade of campaigning and negotiating by the group to ensure the preservation and renovation of the three-storey stone house, built by Rev. Macdonell, parish priest of St. Raphael’s, in the early 1800s, and later the first bishop of Ontario.
The house has its original 1808 structure, as well as two larger additions built in 1924.
The house was also the first seminary of education in pre-Confederation Canada, and it later served for several decades as a school for girls run by the Holy Cross sisters.
The building ’s future had looked grim, the diocese not having the financial resources to make the house serviceable again, and in the spring of 2015 asked South Glengarry council to remove its heritage designation, a mandatory step before demolition. But the request was rejected by council.
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