Historic church in Meath Park demolished

A dome topples off the top of the old church in Meath Park during demolition on March 20, 2018. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

An aging landmark in the Village of Meath Park is no more.

The former Ukrainian Catholic* Church, located across from Meath Park School, was demolished Tuesday afternoon after falling into disrepair more than a decade ago.

Students from the school and curious residents from the area stopped by to watch the backhoe take the building down. Some were overheard remarking that seeing the building fall was sad, while most agreed it had become a safety hazard.

Some said they hadn’t seen much activity at the church in decades of living in the area.

A small dispute has arisen between the village and the property owners as to proper communication. The landowners blame the village for failing to communicate and failing to mitigate floodwaters, while the village says Tuesday was the first they’d heard from the landowners in approximately three years.

Abrom Friesen said he purchased the old church in the early 2000s, he said. A pastor with the Country Gospel Fellowship, he holds the land title in lieu for the fellowship. He said the intention was to transform the building back into a worship space.

Friesen said the church wasn’t properly constructed.

“I was going to brace the walls. I just started, it takes a long time,” he said.

“We were going to use it as a church.”

Friesen was joined Tuesday on site by Pauline Bear. The pair worked to salvage what they could from the building’s interior before the demolition crew brought it down. They came back with some furniture and candlesticks. They said they would later return to take what they could from the building’s basement.

The pews were previously removed prior to Bear and Friesen’s arrival.

The building itself appeared to have a crumbling foundation. The concrete was bowed inward and the church had a visible sag in the middle.

Bear said when the building was purchased, it was in good shape, but poor construction and flooding did it in. She takes fault with the village, the RM and the watershed organization.

“It was in very excellent shape. But the RM and the watershed people, not (providing) any support or help created where we are today,” she said.

Bear and Friesen were also annoyed with the Village. They say they didn’t know the building was slated for demolition. Bear said she found out while at the hair-dresser’s. The village indicated it sent out registered mail. Friesen said he never received the notice.

The village insists the building is a safety hazard. Bear disagrees.

“We had a building inspector say it’s still safe. We had to secure the church’s beams on the bottom. We had a contractor coming in to lift it up off the foundation and put in a new one. That was all happening this year.”

If that work was due to happen this year, the village didn’t know about it.

“We had been working with the owner there for several years to try to rectify the situation,” said Meath Park Mayor Michael Hydamacka.

“We hired a bylaw officer last year. He went through all the proper legal channels to reach the owner and get this rectified. It just didn’t happen. As far as I know, there was no response.”

The building, he said, has been condemned for over a decade. Locals were becoming concerned about the building’s stability.

“It’s directly across from the school,” he said.

“We had reports of students getting in there. The building was not secured and it was a real problem. It’s been collapsing more and more every year.”

While the old church came down yesterday, parts of it still remain. The old crosses, which adorned the domes on top of the building, were saved. They’ll be donated to a different church. Friesen said they would go to a Catholic Church, but as none exist in Meath Park, it’s unclear which church the crosses will go to.

Friesen said the domes were to be donated too, however, some fell and were crushed during the demolition process.

The bylaw officer released a statement Wednesday explaining the process that went into contacting Friesen prior to beginning the process of demolishing the church

* This is a corrected story. The Herald was originally told the church was Orthodox. Through subsequent research we have determined it was a Ukrainian Catholic building. Members from the Orthodox community pointed out the decommisioning of an Orthodox church comes through a ceremony and burning. We regret the error and apologize for any confusion or distress it caused.