An antiquated church in the In-SHUCK-ch community of Skatin is getting a facelift, courtesy of the federal government.
Randy Kamp, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, announced last week that the federal government is putting $202,060 towards the Gothic-style Church of the Holy Cross in Skatin. The money comes from the Conservative government's Economic Action Plan to upgrade national historic sites as a means of stimulating growth in the tourism sector.
"British Columbia is proud of the varied and exciting opportunities offered by its scenic beauty, rich heritage and vibrant culture," Kamp said in a news release. "Our national historic sites are of great value to the local community and offer Canadians a wonderful opportunity to experience and learn about our diverse history and heritage."
The government's contributions make up half of what it will take to restore the church, which needs new roofing, siding repairs, window repairs, painting and electrical upgrades.
In total it will cost $404,142 to repair the church. The Ama Liisa'os Heritage Trust Society, a volunteer organization responsible for the preservation of the building, will foot the rest.
Sharon Syrette, business manager for the Heritage Trust Society, said the church dates back as early as 1905. Blessed by the Catholic Church in 1908, it was built by an estimated 18 people from the Skatin, Douglas, Samahquam and Lil'wat First Nations. One of the builders was an ancestor of Lil'wat Chief Leonard Andrew.
"The people had a very, very strong faith," Syrette said. "They had, of course, missionaries in the territories since about 1850 going through sometimes every three or four years.
"Many had traveled (and) seen churches in Sechelt. They wanted to build their own church in their own way to express who they were and their faith."
Syrette said the area has seen a "steady increase" of tourists since 2006, when the community started getting more media coverage as the In-SHUCK-ch's treaty talks progressed with the provincial and federal governments.
The church has proven a prominent symbol in that coverage and is regularly featured in stories that mention Skatin.
A Catholic symbol is a curious thing to preserve on a reserve when First Nations, Inuit and Metis across Canada are undergoing a lengthy process of reconciliation through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The commission aims to give former students of residential schools a forum to share their experiences in institutions where their guardians systemically abused them. The Catholic Church ran many such institutions.
Syrette admitted that some In-SHUCK-ch people in their late 30s and 40s have approached her and asked why so much effort is being put towards the restoration of a Catholic symbol. But she said a "vast majority" of people see the church as something that is their "family pride."
"Their ancestors designed it, built it, have maintained it," she said. "Many families have seven or eight generations of people baptized in that church, married in that church.
"This is what (their) ancestors accomplished. The Catholic hierarchy didn't come in and build a church in the community."
Restoration of the church will happen in two phases. First will be a preparatory assistance component that will involve a condition assessment, conservation plan and construction documents for the conservation portion of the project. The conservation portion, which involves the actual repairs, will follow.