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Assumption Church in Windsor, Ont., has been added to The National Trust’s Top Ten Endangered Places list. Register file photo

Historic Windsor’s church is added to endangered places list

By  Ron Stang, Catholic Register Special
  • June 3, 2015

WINDSOR, Ont. - Our Lady of Assumption Church has been placed on Canada’s 2015 Top Ten Endangered Places list.

The list, published by Heritage Canada’s The National Trust, draws attention to buildings of extraordinary architectural or historical value that if not soon preserved could fall into such disrepair they may never be saved.

Heritage Canada also has a Worst Losses list for buildings that have met that fate.

Carolyn Quinn, National Trust spokeswoman, said being on the list “has been known to make a difference. Bringing national attention to an endangered heritage building helps to give credibility to those working on the ground to preserve the site, and to their message about its heritage value and significance.”

That was the intention of two local heritage activists in nominating the venerable church, more than 170 years old and closed by the Diocese of London last November.

“I don’t think there’s anything that quite matches the stature of Assumption” in Windsor, said Lynn Baker, a member of the local chapter of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario. “It’s the oldest continuing Catholic parish west of Montreal.”

The Trust calls the building “a prominent landmark steeped in history — a Gothic Revival tour de force” built on land donated by the Huron Nation and associated with an earlier Jesuit mission serving First Nations and the area’s first French farmers.

It’s also central to the founding of Assumption College, which became the University of Windsor.

The church is prominently located near the Windsor waterfront and at the foot of the university campus, and can be readily seen from the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor and Detroit.

The church is in major need of repair with costs estimated between $10-$15 million. Essential work is required for structural, electrical and mechanical issues.

There have been several efforts by the local community to save the church but all have fallen flat. The plug was pulled on a high-profile fundraising campaign in 2012 after an audit found most of the money wasn’t being directed to the church. Then the diocese rejected an offer of $3 million by a well-known businessman after he was charged with weapons offences. A $10-million offer by another wealthy citizen came forward last year but Bishop Ronald Fabbro said there were “complexities” to it and the donation was not accepted.

Baker hopes that having the church on the endangered list will draw national attention.

“The more publicity that you can get the more you might be able to get somebody’s attention and make them realize that this is a very important building, not just for Windsor and Essex County but across the country,” she said.

Chris Holt, another heritage activist and city councillor, who also nominated the church for the list, said he can’t understand why the diocese never kept up the repair of the building.

“Like any private structure it’s up to the owner to take care of their structure,” he said. “I’m a homeowner and I’m clearly not as wealthy as the Catholic Church. But when something goes wrong with my building — my house — I fix it.”

While Assumption Church remains closed, Assumption parish has moved to Holy Name of Mary Church just a few blocks away. That church is a stunning Gothic Revival built in the 1920s and listed on the city’s heritage register. Ironically, it was reopened after it had been closed for parish reorganization.

Baker lauded the diocese for keeping up the condition of that church.

“I’d love to see Assumption get the same kind of treatment,” she said.

Said the Trust: “There is no indication of the diocese’s intentions for the future of the building. In the meantime, portions of the brick façade are crumbling.”

The diocese did not have any comment on the list.

(Stang is a freelance writer in Windsor, Ont.)

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