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MPP John Wilkinson announces $50,000 for South Luther Hall restoration efforts

by Mike Robinson

WELLINGTON NORTH - It was an early back-to-school present for the Friends of the South Luther Hall.

The Friends of South Luther School, in West Luther, will benefit from a $50,000 Ontario Trillium Foundation grant over one year to restore a one room rural school house and re-open it as a safe and accessible community centre.

Long closed as a school, and for some years as a community centre, proponents want to breathe new life into the building. And hopes are the Trillium grant will make that dream happen.

The school was constructed in 1882, and its last year of operation as a school was in 1964.

On Aug. 27, Perth-Wellington MPP John Wilkinson was joined by Ontario Trillium Foundation Grant Review Team member Martin Bosch to make the announcement.

Wilkinson said, “I am delighted that this Ontario Trillium Foundation grant will allow community organizations to deliver a variety of programs and services in a safe, renewed South Luther School.

“The best thing about the Ontario Trillium Foundation is that its decisions are not made by politicians and not made by civil servants. They are made by volunteers from within our community.

“The residents of our rural community worked hard to ensure this piece of history will be recognized and restored. I applaud the Friends of South Luther School volunteers for their dedication.”

To the Friends, Wilkinson said, “after all the work put into this, you should be congratulated, because there are three times more projects than money available.”

Wilkinson said the success of the application shows it “is a very worthy project” and that “there is widespread demonstrable community support to save our heritage and to ensure our heritage buildings have a bright new future.

“That really is the future that the Friends have had here for so many years.”

He also congratulated the volunteers who have worked so hard to ensure the Foundation “would find this as a very worthy project.”

Linda Paquette, President of the Friends of South Luther School, said, “This grant will allow community groups and agencies to hold a variety of programs and services for people of all ages, abilities and cultures. I’m delighted and look forward to this school again being a thriving part of the community and beyond.”

Established in 2006, the Friends of South Luther School have worked tirelessly to rescue the building from demolition, to purchase it in 2008, then consider how best to adapt it to today’s standards while restoring the one room school charm.

Pacquette pointed out a number of former students from the South Luther School in attendance.

Pacquette said the group worked with the Trillium Foundation in order to apply for the grant properly and successfully. She explained that Martin Bosch has been part of that process.

Bosch said “When the original plan came out, we knew there was something good in that.” He said just because the application wasn’t exactly right in the first submission, didn’t mean the Trillium committee was about to trash it and forget about it. He said the Foundation gave the group ideas and recommended they come back for the application to be reviewed again.

Bosch said there are numerous subgroups across the province for the distribution of between $120- to $140-million. The local group covers the region of Waterloo, Wellington and Dufferin “hands out roughly $4.5 to $5.0 million annually.”

He explained part of the process in this case was determining which portion of the project would be best funded by a Trillium grant.

He then spoke of the heritage one-room school house building, noting he too attended a one-room school near Elgin.

“I’m very familiar with this. While not unusual, it’s nice to have around.”

He pointed to the South Luther hall as one of the surviving historic structures of the area. He quipped that Ruthan and Dennis Johnson, dressed in period costume, might have been some of the first few students. Ruthan is an educator for the Dufferin County Museum.

Wellington North Mayor Mike Broomhead considered the event quite an emotional day.

“As a long-time supporter of the Friends of South Luther School Hall, thank you to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for providing this grant,” said Broomhead.

“I would like to congratulate the Friends of South Luther School and the Province of Ontario, for working together to restore these important heritage buildings in our community.”

Broomhead described the hall as an “absolutely beautiful building.” He too agreed this has been an ongoing issue for a number of years.

“Not too far back in history, this building came very close to being levelled,” he said. “It was only through the dedication of the Friends of the?South Luther Hall, and their hard work and determination that the building is still standing like it is.”

He added, “I know at times it was very frustrating for them; it was very frustrating for myself.” Broomhead said he looks forward to the day there will be a ribbon cutting at an official reopening ceremony.

He alluded to the work being done to preserve the Carnegie libraries throughout Wellington County as well as the Wellington County Archives expansion.

“These buildings are going to be part of the community for a long, long time.”

Pacquette, who has served with the Friends of South Luther School Hall for the past five years, said, “It’s been a struggle in a lot of ways. We’re very glad for all the help we’ve got.”

She noted the group incorporated in 2006, and was therefore able to go ahead in a number of directions. In 2008, the group purchased the school from Wellington North.

She said as far as they understood the first log school in the area was built in 1852 and also served as a church. “We’re not sure how long it served.”

Eventually the school became too small and in 1881 a half acre of uncleared land was purchased from Newson family, specifically from her great-grandfather. She noted there were other Newson descendants at the day’s gathering.

“It took young and old to clear the land before anything could be built.” She then described the day in 1882 when the 65 students walked from their old school to the new one at the current location.

She noted the school was the home of the South Luther Dodgers, a wonderful ball team.

The building continued to be used even after it closed in 1964 as a result of the provincial government’s initiative to close many one room school houses across the province. The hall was used for many events, from reunions to farm forums to elections and worship services.

“Our hope is that when it is restored - first the schoolroom part, then adapt the addition to make it accessible to everyone.”

East Luther Grand Valley mayor John Oosterhof congratulated those who helped make this happen.

“Most of all I have to congratulate the Friends of the hall who saw an opportunity to make a difference in the community. These things don’t come easy, but to save a piece of history - it is something which we don’t do often enough.”

Vol 43 Issue 36

 
 

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