St. Vital deadline extended to March 2

The old St. Vital Church in Battleford has been granted a reprieve from the wrecker’s ball, at least for the next couple of months.

The Town of Battleford had asked for fundraising submissions by noon on Jan. 3. Some interest has been shown, however, and council has made the decision to extend the deadline to March 2, to allow a local group time to come up with a plan to rehabilitate the Church.

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The future of the old St. Vital Church has been in question for several months. The church, located next to the Fred Light Museum, was built in 1883 and is listed on the National Trust for Canada on its top 10 endangered places list.

Council had passed a resolution on Aug. 20, 2019, authorizing administration to “take the necessary steps to remove the Old St. Vital Church” if no group or persons came forward and no viable plan had been put in place by Jan. 3.

Since then a local group called the St. Vital Committee has come forward with interest in saving the old church. Council received correspondence from Gene Aulinger on behalf of that group, who stated they had met on Dec. 27 to “discuss renovations and possible use of the original St. Vital Church.”

The group has agreed to get the necessary permissions to move Father Hert, who is buried at the church, as well as a possible second priest who might also be buried at the church.

“This is the first time we were made aware that there may be a second body there,” said town CAO John Enns-Wind at the meeting.

The group also has goals of repairing the roof and areas where the stucco and footing have separated at the building, findung some prices for repairs, and creating a list of possible financial supporters. Aulinger’s letter also requested the town not move ahead with demolition.

Separate to that effort, a GoFundMe page was launched on Aug. 20 with a goal of raising $50,000 to cover the costs of maintaining the building. So far, only $850 has been raised. 

The hope expressed by administration and council is that by granting the extension, all those interested in saving the church might be able to meet and work together on a more comprehensive plan they can put forward.

The resolution agreed to by council Monday calls for those interested to come back March 2 with a fundraising plan that raises the full amount to rehabilitate the Church (referring to the $50,000), to meet with the town’s structural engineer to develop a rehabilitation plan (which would include a tour of the Church to see the scope of work required); to work with the Oblates on removal of the priests, and arrange a general contractor to provide coaching regarding the type of work needed.

Those around the council table were glad to see someone show some interest, and agreed with the March 2 deadline. It was also noted that the cold weather conditions were going to prevent any work being done at the St. Vital site anyway. 

“I’m glad somebody has come forward and have a plan,” was the reaction of Councillor Judy Pruden. “Nothing can happen right now anyway with the ground being frozen.”

“I think it’s very appropriate to give this group the benefit of time to see what they can come forth with to preserve the St. Vital Church,” said Mayor Ames Leslie to reporters afterwards. Leslie also stressed it was up to the community to come up with a plan.

“It takes a whole community to do it and it can’t rely just on the town to preserve this church. If people want to see it survive and be around for another 80 years, we need people to step forward and bring forth some ideas on how we can (a) preserve it and (b) how we’re going to raise the money to do it.”

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