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Church project rife with revelation

The resurrection of the Oro African Methodist Episcopal Church near Edgar was on full display Easter weekend.

"I think it’s coming along great," Oro-Medonte Township Mayor Harry Hughes said as he walked around the site at the corner of Old Barrie Road and Line 3.

Structural work is underway at the site, with some of the most major work needed being completed in the past few weeks, explained Shawn Binns, Oro-Medonte director of recreation and community services.

"The top plate — which is the very top log that connects the roof structure to the building — has been replaced," he said. "That whole log has been replaced, along with the top sill plate log on the east end of the building."

Log restoration is underway as well. As many of the original logs as possible are being used, with rotted areas being removed and new scab pieces being put in. But when the logs have to be replaced — as with the top plate — period logs are being found throughout the province to be used in the church.

Finding those logs has fallen in the hands of Gene Power, of Trinity Bay Construction, and Bill Beaton, of Loyalist Timber Framing. The two biggest logs they’ve used to replace unsalvageable pieces at the church have come from the Ottawa Valley and near London. The one from London was a 75-foot timber they had to cut to size to fit the east side of the building.

The restoration work is also providing the contractors and the township a look into how the European settlers cultivated the land in what became Ontario in the 18th and 19th centuries.

"We quite often find log buildings like this, with the burn marks on them," Power said.

But there usually isn’t any evidence of a fire taking place in the structure at any time, he noted.

"We think the log was standing and they burnt the forest off, like they do in Brazil now," he explained, "because there was so much forest there and they had to clear it. Other than build a house with (these logs), what else are you going to do?"

It is just another in a long line of revelations and discoveries made during the restoration project. Regularly, workers are finding names carved into the wood of the structure, as they peel back layer after layer. As well, just last week, a lever was found near one of the windows inside the church, which indicates a chandelier may have hung from the ceiling at one time.

But there have also been hiccups. An 11-inch difference in the base of the building from front to back forced the contractors to get creative.

"The bottom (of the church) was actually sloped," Hughes said. "We built the foundation flat. When we went to put it back on, these guys had to figure out how to level it out."

Another concern has been a deadline placed on some of the funding received to complete the restoration project. Parks Canada was one of three primary financiers for the project, contributing nearly $78,000 to restore the church. A caveat on that funding was the work be completed by March 31.

While an official request for an expansion has been made to Parks Canada, Binns is confident all funding is safe, as most of the major work is finished.

"The schedule has always been evolving. We’ve never had a fixed schedule," Binns said. "Our target is to be open for the summer months. At this point in time, it’s looking we’re likely to complete later spring and be in a position to be open for early summer."

Parks Canada has been "a partner" throughout the process, and a representative from the government agency was on site visiting recently.

Other funding sources included a more than $94,000 provincial Trillium grant and about $90,000 came in through community fundraising, largely through a successful crowd-funding campaign. Thousands of dollars in in-kind donations were also made.

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