It's our missing piece of black history.
Five-plus years after it was razed and replaced by condos and townhouses, plans to erect a commemorative artwork on the site of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) on Soho have gotten lost in the bureaucratic muck at City Hall.
The city's blaming amalgamation. The developer, Wittington Properties, is blaming the city. The Ontario Black History Society doesn't know who to blame - although a fair bit of criticism has been levelled by the society's president, Rosemary Sadlier, at Wittington.
Inexplicably, the developer ended up trashing the church facade's bricks and a metal finial that were supposed to be used to fashion the commemoration on site.
"The African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded by those who made their way into Canada on the Underground Railroad," says Sadlier. "It was a focal point, a place for black people to have spiritual space to socialize and to organize."
Here's where the story gets murky. Wittington spokesperson Bronwyn Krog says the developer only promised to hold on to the materials "for a couple of years," and didn't get rid of them until repeated calls to the city about what to do with the items went unanswered.
"No one wanted them."
Krog says Wittington fulfilled its end of the bargain: to contribute some $100,000 to the public arts fund - part of which was supposed to go to the AME project and the remainder to a book on the history of black churches in Ontario and a business plan for a museum of black history.
"The city has the money. It's their responsibility to do the project, not the developer's," says Krog. End of story.
The culture division's executive director, Rita Davies, can't help but sound a little incredulous. "Wittington says that the city led them to trash the materials? Okay. Did they say who they were trying to contact at the city?"
Krog says she can't remember the names of city staff she contacted. "It was so long ago."
Davies suggests the project may have been lost in the restructuring caused by amalgamation, which was going on right around the time an AME commemoration was on the city's agenda back in 97.
"I'm not trying to play dumb here," says Davies, "but a lot of the structure of the city changed. The staff who are working here now were not involved in those discussions."
An embarrassed Wittington now seems willing to donate some space to the project. And the neighbourhood association across the street, the Brownstones of SoHo, is prepared to lend its support.
Sadlier's still hoping someone at the city will take up the cause of memorializing this godly refuge.