Effort to save St. Vital Church comes to town council

Supporters of the old St. Vital Church in Battleford made their pitch to save the structure at a town council meeting Monday night.

Tammy Donahue Buziak, representing the Battlefords North West Historical Society, made the case that more was at stake than simply saving a building. Hearing it from Donahue Buziak, the reputation and the soul of the community was on the line.

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“It was stated to me that Battleford is no longer known as historic Battleford but as low-tax Battleford,” Donahue Buziak said.

She pointed to the town’s founding in 1865 as a trading post, then as territorial capital. “We have been and always been known as a historic area.”

In her presentation, Donahue Buziak outlined her organization’s pitch to save the building. Instead of the town spending $35,000 on demolishing St. Vital Church, she suggested that amount instead be provided to Friends of the 1883 church, consisting of the Fred Light Museum board. That money would then be invested towards preserving the heritage building.

She also made the request that old St. Vital Church fall under the auspices of the Fred Light Museum and become part of its historical collection.

In making the request she cited the church’s close proximity to the museum next door, and suggested it could be used to house historical artifacts or as a tea room.

Donahue Buziak also presented a petition of more than 100 names of individuals from Battleford opposed to demolition of old St. Vital Church. 

The property is currently one of nine designated heritage properties in the town of Battleford, and listed by the National Trust for Canada as one of its Top 10 endangered places list.

Donahue Buziak made the point that there is a lot of interest provincially and nationally in the fate of this building. She told council the venue not only served as a church, but a school and community meeting hall, and has also been the burial ground of Father Hert since 1883.

“We hope that 2020 doesn’t go down in history as the year that Battleford demolished one of the oldest historic buildings in Canada,” said Donahue Buziak.

In making their pitch the Battlefords North West Historical Society cited not only the historical importance of the building but also the value of attracting tourists interested in the area’s history. Donahue Buziak pointed to the success that the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the Fred Light Museum have in attracting tourists to Battleford. 

“We need to develop, stand behind and develop historic tourist attractions in Battleford,” Donahue Buziak said.

In her presentation, she pointed to a number cited in the engineering report conducted by JC Kenyon Engineering Inc. from Nov. 21 2018.

It estimated the costs of making St. Vital Church ready for occupancy to be $472,000. That included $160,000 in mechanical and electrical upgrades, $90,000 to replace the floor, $50,000 on doors and windows and $40,000 in stucco and footing repair.

But another significant number cited in the report was $50,000. That was the amount required immediately to protect the building from rapid deterioration.

In her presentation Donahue Buziak saw that amount as particularly significant. “Approximately $50,000 was all that is required to assist in protecting the existing structure for future use,” she said.

While it was a lengthy presentation, council took no action on the Historical Society’s requests. In speaking to reporters Mayor Ames Leslie had little comment, as he reiterated that council already made its decision about the process regarding the future of St. Vital Church.

“Council has made a decision and passed a recommendation that members of the community have until January to come forth with a plan on how the church will be saved,” said Leslie.

A deadline of Jan. 3, 2020 had already been chosen. Leslie acknowledged there was a GoFundMe page set up to raise funds.

Leslie also took issue with the suggestion that it would only take $50,000 to save St. Vital Church. The $50,000 would only maintain the structure the way it is now, he said.

“That doesn’t allow you to go into the building, that doesn’t include any asbestos removal that is confirmed to be in the building, that doesn’t make it so you can use it whatsoever,” Leslie said. “To get up to re-using the building again it is upwards to half a million dollars.”

Right now the church is closed to the public and boarded up. Leslie also made the point that the structure is deteriorating even further. One thing people may not realize is that, when the shingles went on in 2010, “something went wrong,” Leslie said.

“The roof is still leaking and there is water going into that church and it is wrecking the integral structure of the building,” said Leslie.

“So there is a lot more work that needs to be done on that building than what people are seeing and believing, and we have the report here at Town Hall if anybody wants to see it. So it’s not as simple as $50,000. I wish it was, I wish this was a fight over $50,000 but it could be upwards of $500,000 to bring this building back to be able to use. Council is of the mind that they don’t want something just to sit there any more. If we’re going to invest money into this church or the community is going to invest money into the St. Vital Church, it needs to have a purpose.”

The old St. Vital Church in Battleford
The old St. Vital Church in Battleford.
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