Parks Canada

First Baptist Church receives national designation



By Ron Giofu


A local church has received federal designation as a place of “National Historic Significance” on the weekend.

First Baptist Church, located at 232 George St., received the designation as part of a commemoration ceremony Saturday morning at the 148-year-old church. Representatives from the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and Parks Canada were on hand for the designation and plaque unveiling, held in front of a crowd of about 100 people.

Pastor Olaniyi Afolabi, Rev. Ron Watson, Rev. Albert Lambkin and Dr. Barbara Hugh Smith stand with the plaque designating First Baptist Church as a place of “national historic significance.”

Eric Nielsen, Parks Canada’s manager of external relations for southwestern Ontario, said while it is Canada 150, it is also the 100th anniversary of Canada’s first national historic site. The recommendations, such as the successful one for First Baptist Church, are left for the federal government to decide, he added.

“It’s not just special to you,” Nielsen said of the ceremony. “It’s special to all Canadians.”

First Baptist Church is described by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada as being “a principal Underground Railroad-related Black church in Upper Canada. Strategically located near the United States border, it offered sanctuary to African Americans fleeing slavery.”

The church was constructed in 1848-49 and “was a spiritual home for thousands of Black Baptists and it helped foster the development of a distinctive Black Baptist church tradition in Ontario. As the Mother Church of the Amherstburg Regular Missionary Baptist Association, it played a crucial role in the development of Black communities and identity in Ontario.”

The church was built under the leadership of Pastor Anthony Binga Sr., who travelled around the area raising funds for its construction. Baptists had formerly met in local homes before deciding to build their own place of worship.

Julie Dompierre represented the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and said they were proud to welcome First Baptist Church as a place of “National Historic Significance.” She noted the town’s place as a spot where slaves seeking freedom came to and built a new life.

Pastor Olaniyi Afolabi accepts another plaque from the Town of Amherstburg, which was represented by Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale.

“Amherstburg First Baptist Church is one of the most historically significant churches in Canada,” said Dompierre, who repeated the line for the crowd.

Dompierre said the “simple, compact auditory church” was one where Pastor Binga preached inclusiveness and the desire to build a better life and country.

“The legacy of this church is one of hope,” she added.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale said he is very familiar with the church and also presented a plaque to the church from the town.

“I strongly believe in this church,” said DiPasquale. “It’s pretty old. There are significant parts that had to be re-done. It may need help down the road.”

Pastor Olaniyi Afolabi said the church “has been through many ups and downs” including a flood in 2011 that caused the town to shut it down.

“Because of the flood, we lost members of our church but we have some left,” said Afolabi.

While there have been challenges, the church’s members have seen it through and the church re-opened. However, Afolabi said there is still work to be done including further interior renovations which, in part, include a new water heater and washrooms which need “a total makeover.”

“We are undaunted,” said Afolabi. “We see our church as victorious in the midst of strife.”

Rev. Ron Watson represented the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec and praised Pastor Afolabi and his wife Abiola for their work. He read an address from executive minister Rev. Tim McCoy which stated “Canada’s DNA was born in little churches like this and in little town’s like this.” Rev. Albert Lambkin, moderator of the Amherstburg Regular Missionary Baptist Association, said “this Mother Church has been through some pain and agony” but is on the way back.

Lambkin added many pastors have been through the building and also praised the Afolabis for their efforts in helping to start restoration work.

Dr. Barbara Hugh Smith, the great grand-niece of Pastor Anthony Binga Sr., said she was thankful that the plaque dedication ceremony finally came to fruition. She recalled first being notified of the possibility in 2005. She said she was thankful Binga didn’t rest and said she was similarly thankful the Afolabis didn’t rest either.

“I’m proud of him for what he did for the community,” Hugh Smith said of Binga.

The ceremony also saw numerous other ministers and priests from local churches attend. A reception followed at Royal Canadian Legion Br. 157.

Feds to invest almost $1.2 million to revitalize Fort Malden National Historic Site


By Ron Giofu


Visitors to Fort Malden National Historic Site got a glimpse of over 2,000 years of military history over the weekend but the Fort itself will soon have its own history re-invested in.

Fort Malden will be receiving almost $1.2 million to reinvest in the fort’s heritage structures and visitor facilities. According to Elizabeth LeBlanc, public relations and communications officer for Parks Canada’s southwestern Ontario field unit, the investments “will protect our heritage and strengthen their appeal as destinations to celebrate our nation’s achievements.”

Work should start next year, she indicated.

The gun crew from the 34th regiment fire the cannon as part of Military Heritage Days at Fort Malden Sunday afternoon.

The gun crew from the 34th regiment fire the cannon as part of Military Heritage Days at Fort Malden Sunday afternoon.

“Starting in 2017, we are going to do an assessment of the site,” said LeBlanc.

Exteriors of buildings, windows, pathways, and lighting will be part of the assessment process in order to see what opportunities there are to reinvest and restore the historical site. Actual construction and renovations would occur in 2018 during off-peak times, she added.

LeBlanc said the money is coming through the Federal Infrastructure and Investment program.

It is not the first investment in Fort Malden in recent years, LeBlanc added, as $815,000 was invested in order to add to structures on the site in order that storage of materials could be accommodated better. There was also additional office space created, she said.

Military Heritage Days saw a bit of a different layout this year, she noted, as Fort Malden staff moved artillery and weapons demonstrations to the southern portion of the grounds, along the Detroit River. The new layout helped accommodate a “Seneca run,” an obstacle-course type of event where participants also fired muskets as part of it. People could also get a “birds-eye” view from one of the bastions onto the range.

Re-enactors with the 34th Regiment fire during a mock battle Sunday afternoon.

Re-enactors with the 34th Regiment fire during a mock battle Sunday afternoon.

“They changed it up a bit this year,” said LeBlanc.

The parade square was geared towards youth activities and attractions for younger age groups.

In addition to the grounds and buildings themselves, Fort Malden has also revitalized its programming, LeBlanc noted. A theatrical production was held last month with another planned for Aug. 19-20, the latter one to feature the story of the rebellion.

“It’s a great way to get this amazing story out to people,” said LeBlanc.

Roman re-enactor Joe Perz places a chainmail vest onto Elijah Morin during Military Heritage Days.

Roman re-enactor Joe Perz places a chainmail vest onto Elijah Morin during Military Heritage Days.

A murder mystery was held Saturday night and an “escape room” will be held Aug. 6 and Aug. 13 to allow people to decipher riddles and escape from a soldier’s barrack. There is also a day camp for youth planned for Aug. 8-12 as well.

“Hopefully there is something for everyone,” said LeBlanc.

LeBlanc added the programming team at Fort Malden is also looking at additional events for the fall months.

For further information on the new programs, call 519-736-5416 or visit

To see additional photos from the July 30-31 Military Heritage Days, please visit our our Facebook album.