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Guelph Black Heritage Society continues to make improvements to its Heritage Hall

The group took possession of the former church in 2012
20180730 Denise Francis Guelph Black Heritage Society
Denise Francis, president of the Guelph Black Heritage Society, stands outside Heritage Hall on Essex Street. The society has been steadily making improvements to the 1880s-era building since taking it over in 2012. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

Piece by piece, the Guelph Black Heritage Society is accessing funds to make needed improvements to its 1880s-era Heritage Hall, a building its president says has ‘good bones’. 

This week, the society announced it has received $19,250 in funding from the federal government’s Canadian Cultural Spaces Fund.

Combined with $15,000 the society received for improvements to the hall last year from the Guelph Community Foundation, the combined funding will go toward improving the audio and visual experience as part of its Heritage Hall Theatre Project, said Denise Francis, president of the Guelph Black Heritage Society.

The hall is host to a number of events throughout the year, including those during Black History Month in February and a celebration last weekend for Emancipation Day.

The most recent funding will be used to upgrade the sound system, speakers, a mixer and new microphones for the space. Recently, the hall’s theatre lighting was upgraded.

A current raised carpeted area that has been acting as a stage will also be removed and replaced with a portable stage, said Francis, and new folding chairs will be purchased for the site.

In addition, new window coverings will be purchased to allow the hall to create different moods by blocking out or opening the tall church windows to light.

The Heritage Hall Theatre Project is just one of many projects the society is embarking on to improve the hall, which was formerly known as the British Methodist Episcopal Church. The group took possession of the former church in 2012 and renamed it Heritage Hall.

“We are trying to get money from multiple sources. Our building is nice and quaint, but it’s also tired and needs a lot of work,” said Francis.

The society’s Ramping it Up campaign is an ongoing effort to make the 1880s-era building more accessible by adding a ramp and new entrance to the back of the building, as well as an accessible bathroom.

The building’s heritage designation adds a few challenges to the retrofit project, said Francis, but the society is working with the city to have it done correctly.

In another project at the hall, windows on one side of the building were replaced last year with modern energy-saving windows through a Wellbeing Grant from the city of Guelph.

“It has really improved the energy efficiency of the building,” said Francis. “We were lucky enough to get more funding this year, so the three windows on the other side are going to be replaced.”

Also on the list of needed improvements is some painting to interior walls and the ceiling to fix some water damage the building recently received when some shingles blew off. At the same time, wood-panelling that was probably added in the 1970s will be removed to uncover the original wainscotting underneath.

Francis said the society is chipping away at the various needed projects for the hall as funding comes in.

“As we get funding we do the projects as money allows,” said Francis.


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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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