BIGHORN – With an eye toward maintaining momentum in preserving the McDougall Memorial United Church site, a fundraising effort was launched Monday (July 23).
A GoFundMe campaign is underway with a goal of $100,000, which will be used for site cleanup and initial restoration efforts.
The 142-year-old church burned down during the early morning hours of May 22, 2017.
Police initially deemed the fire “accidental,” however, RCMP confirmed in March they were treating it as an arson investigation.
Campaign funds raised, therefore, said Brenda McQueen, president of the McDougall Stoney Mission Society, “are basically for the work that’s being done at this point. It’s for the cleanup and to make the site safe.
“Because it’s a historic site, we have to work very closely with the provincial government and what we’re doing now is we’ve had the church removed. The logs have been taken down and an analysis is being done of the remaining logs and an archaeologist will be on site.”
The archaeologist will be digging under the floor of the former church, an area untouched since 1875. The Province recommended log work and a study of the floor area would be a good place to start in deciding what’s next for the church site.
Archaeological work by Kendra Kolomyja was to start Thursday (July 26), weather permitting, now that the site has been cleared and prepared.
“After they get a report on both of those, we’ll be given more options from the provincial government on where we can go from there,” said McQueen.
Logs are being tested for structural soundness and charcoal from the fire removed. Core samples have been taken to assess the possibility of rot in the logs. Should logs be found suitable, there is the possibility that some could be used in a re-construction project in the future.
The Mission society elected a new board in November and there is a lot of work to be done in deciding what will happen on the church site.
“It keeps me out of trouble,” said McQueen, “it’s like full and a half time work. There’s a lot to be done. But I’m really enjoying it and I’m glad we’ve gotten to this point. We needed something done at the site and moving forward. I didn’t want it to just stay there as a burnt old building.
“We’ll now see what the next options are for it.”
As cleanup and restoration work is being done, along with archaeological efforts, the society continues to hold events at the church site on Highway 1A east of Exshaw. Last weekend, for example, Bison Belong was on site presenting information about the release of bison into Banff National Park.
“We hope to continue with the interest in the site,” said McQueen. “We’re trying to do quite a variety of events so we can appeal to a wide source of people and they can get updated on what’s happening at the site.
“Most of the events have seen different people out, so it’s really exciting that way.”
Events are posted on the McDougall Stoney Mission Society Facebook page.
Other events have included a plant talk and walk, where area plants were explained in detail.
This Sunday (July 29) at 1 p.m., as part of historic week in Calgary, McQueen will give a public update on what’s been done and what the future holds for the church site. Dave Chalmers of Chalmers Heritage Conservation Ltd., the contractor who removed the logs and tested them, will also speak.
To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/rebuild-mcdougall-memorial-united. For more on happenings at the church site, visit www.mcdougallstoneymission.com.