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Campaign to relocate Fugitive Slave Chapel sees $5K donation from Diocese of London

The Fugitive Slave Chapel on Grey Street in London, Ont., Feb. 1, 2022. Matthew Trevithick/980 CFPL

A campaign aimed at raising funds to relocate London’s historic fugitive slave chapel to Fanshawe Pioneer Village and restore it for future generations received a $5,000 boost on Thursday from the Diocese of London.

The donation comes as the campaign looks to close the gap on its ultimate $300,000 goal, and officials with the village say they’re now more than halfway there.

Most Rev. Ronald P. Fabbro, CSB Bishop of London, visited the village on Thursday to present a cheque to Carl Cadogan and Christina Lord of the steering committee, and Tom Peace, chair of FPV’s board of directors.

Read more: Feb. 1, 2022: Campaign launched to fund relocation of fugitive slave chapel to Fanshawe Pioneer Village

“We have been doing quite a bit of grassroots campaigning, as well as capital fundraising campaigning, to support the relocation and restoration of the chapel at the village,” said Dawn Miskelly, Fanshawe Pioneer Village’s executive director, on Friday.

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“We’ve sent lots of letters out to the community. One of the areas that we did some letters to were different faith groups. … We received a call back in March, I think it was, from the diocese, just to reach out to us to say that they were looking to support the project.”

In a statement, Fabbro said he was appreciative that the donation would enable future generations to learn about the chapel and the role it and other chapels played in helping those fleeing enslavement in the U.S. settle after arriving in Canada.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to support this worthy project to help preserve the histories of Black communities that have existed in southwestern Ontario for two centuries,” he said.

Speaking with Global News Friday afternoon, Matthew Clarke, director of communications for the diocese, said he was hopeful that the donation wouldn’t be the last of the diocese’s involvement in the project.

“Perhaps we can rally volunteers or individual donations from our parishioners and the Catholic faithful in the area,” he said. “I hope that they can look to us in the future, whether it’s for additional support or volunteers or to participate in an opening event or something like that. We’re happy to help.”

“We like to think it would have brought comfort to them, you know, finding a faith community in this faraway land to welcome them with prayer,” he said of the chapel. “It would have given them, we like to think, a sense of hope that their harrowing journey from the United States to Canada was now over and they could begin settling in.”

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A clipping from the May 8, 1926, edition of the London Advertiser showing the former African Methodist Episcopal Church on Thames Street. The church, also known as the Fugitive Slave Chapel, was relocated in 2014. Ivey Family London Room, London Public Library

Originally the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the chapel was erected in 1848 at 275 Thames St., serving as a sanctuary for African Americans who had escaped slavery in the U.S. through the Underground Railroad and who had built homes in what is now SoHo.

The chapel later became the British Methodist Episcopal Church in 1856, and was replaced by a new church on Grey Street in 1869, according to the London Public Library. Abolitionist John Brown is believed to have spoken at the Thames Street chapel in 1858, a year before his ill-fated raid on the Harpers Ferry Armory in Virginia to initiate a slave rebellion, the library says.

The old chapel remained on Thames Street, and was used as a private residence for decades. In 2013, the building was spared the wrecking ball after a community outcry, and in 2014 was lifted and slowly trucked to its current home on Grey Street.

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The campaign to move the chapel began earlier this year, months after it was unveiled in August 2021 that the British Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada, which owns the building, had entered into talks with Fanshawe Pioneer Village to gift the chapel so it could be relocated and preserved.

Village officials said at the time that the chapel was at risk of further deterioration if action didn’t come soon to preserve the structure. The hope is to carefully move the building and restore it to how it looked when first constructed.

“I’m very optimistic that we’ll be able to move before the wintertime. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that’s happening right now to get the permitting to relocate the building,” said Miskelly, adding that a final date will be contingent on that behind-the-scenes work getting wrapped up.

“Because of the heritage designation where it is, we’re working on the heritage alteration permit to relocate it to the village,” she continued.

“We’re working on our donation agreement letter to send to the church and getting architecture drawings started so that we have them to submit with our heritage alteration permit, but also so we can begin to look at the work that needs to happen at the village in preparation for the chapel being moved.”

Read more: April 8, 2022: ‘Time is of the essence’: Councillors to consider grant to save London’s Fugitive Slave Chapel

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So far, the project has raised more than $150,000 from the community, and hope is on the way that a matching fund program run by the federal government could help put the campaign over its goal.

In April, London City Council unanimously endorsed a motion to have city hall provide a $71,000 grant to the campaign through the municipal Community Investment Reserve Fund.

As a result of the donation from the diocese, the city grant, and other contributions, the campaign surpassed the 50 per cent mark, making it eligible for the federal Canada Cultural Spaces Fund.

“We can apply for up to 50 per cent of the eligible expenses for the project, and the amount granted depends on what they have available in the fund because they do receive a lot of applications,” Miskelly said.

“We’re hopeful, fingers crossed, that we’ll have some support from that program. We’ve requested about 50 per cent of the project’s costs that are eligible, and we’ll see what may come of that.”

Miskelly said the project’s funding application is being reviewed, and officials hope to hear more about its status in the next few weeks.

“The project overall — we’re excited to see all the community support that we’re getting from it. This donation is an example, and we really hope to have some more great news to share as our campaign progresses.”

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Information on how to donate to the campaign can be found on the London Community Foundation’s website. Corporate or community groups looking to contribute directly to Fanshawe Pioneer Village can contact Miskelly via email at director@fanshawepioneervillage.com.

— with files from Sawyer Bogdan

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