Last Thursday, September 1, the 108-year-old lychgate roof was re-laid to rest, where it belongs, at the entry to Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Riverside Heights.
The historical lychgate provides entry onto the Holy Trinity church grounds where the grave site memorials to Sir James Pliny Whitney, (the sixth premier of the Province of Ontario), the Whitney and Sarah Crysler-Pliny families and Colonel J. Munro (a famous officer of the 1st Royal Yorkers) are located.
In February 2009, its roof was removed from its two supporting pillars due to safety reasons.
The lychgate, a surrounding fence and Holy Trinity Church were relocated to their present location at the time of the Seaway project. It was one of only two area churches that were deemed historically significant enough to be spared demolition.
The current church land is very low, and water and frost upheaval over the past 52 years had damaged both the lychgate and a fence that surrounds the property.
The two columns that support the lychgate roof had shifted to the point where the roof was being damaged and had become unsafe.
Estimates for repairs to the lychgate and fence, prior to the roof’s removal were as high as $250,000, a figure that was way beyond the means of the small church congregation.
“We cannot lose such an important piece of Ontario’s history,” said MPP Jim Brownell at the time. “There aren’t too many lychgates left in Ontario, if there are any. It’s a tragedy and we have to find some way of getting it back.”
Two years later the call was answered, not by the province or any of its ministries, but by local resident, Les Cruickshank.
“I was starting to worry it wasn’t going to happen,” said Isobel Tuttle who is the People’s Warden at Holy Trinity. “A big thank you goes to Les (Cruickshank) for taking this on all by himself. It looks wonderful having it back up.”
“When I got the news from Les that he thought the lychgate needed to be put back in place, it was one of those things that truly is a gift from God,” said Rev. Sue McCullough. “It was cost prohibitive for the congregation, but it was part of the church that needed to be put back. Les recognized that.”
“Thanks just don’t cover what we feel about what he has done.”
“Basically, what we did was put reinforcement between the two posts,” said Cruickshank of the work carried out by his company’s (Cruickshank Construction)employees. “We poured concrete with a rebar, so the two posts are now like one. When you come back here in 50 years, they’ll still be up.”
“We excavated down to the footings and hydraulically jacked everything back into place,” explained Cruickshank employee Ron Dingwall when interviewed during the work that took place in July. “We poured concrete to stabilize them, and Polywrap(ed) and insulated both columns coming up from the footings.”
Dingwall said the east pillar footing was originally poured in two parts and that had shifted apart. “The pillar had shifted to the north and was leaning about six inches towards the church. It had also moved in a counter clockwise direction and was off the footings by three inches. The west pillar had a 10 inch shift from top to bottom and it was leaning to the south.”
“We dug between and around the two pillars, laid insulation and then poured a reinforced concrete pad below the surface to tie the two columns together.”
“There is lots of water in the ground here. It is possible this area is below the water level of the St. Lawrence. Hopefully, what we have done will last another 100 years. We don’t want to come back in 10 years times and see the roof leaning again.”
Once the pillars were levelled, the completion of the project awaited the availability of Cruickshank manpower and heavy equipment needed to lift the estimated 3,500 pound lychgate roof back onto the support pillars.
That all came about last week under the direction of Stan Keyes and two very skilled Cruickshank heavy equipment operators.
A support base was built from steel beams salvaged from the 401 overpass rebuild at Iroquois (a job currently being done by Cruickshank Construction). The lychgate roof was lifted by crane onto the base and moved to the lychgate area early last week. Then Thursday, two front end loaders worked in unison to lift, position and lower it onto the awaiting pillars.
The positioning took a lot of jockeying, an inch at a time, until the roof was perfectly lined up and dropped into place.
To complete the project, the Lychgate roof is now in need of some repair and paint, to restore it to its former beauty.
But that is not the last of it says Cruickshank who is now prepared to lobby the provincial government for money to repair the fence, landscape the Whitney Memorial area, and provide long-term maintenance to the area.
“A premier is buried here, the province should be doing something,” says Cruickshank. “We should make this an election issue, get something done here.”
From a tourism point of view Cruickshank suggests signage on the 401, signage at strategic locations on Cty. Rd. #2 and signage at the site.
“If we could get a one shot deal (to repair the fence and landscape the memorial areas) and some annual maintenance money that would be good.”
Sir James Pliny Whitney was the Premier of Ontario from 1905 to 1914, a remarkable era in Ontario politics, which saw significant legislation in regards to workmen’s compensations, temperance, hydroelectric development and urban transit.
It was under the Whitney government in 1906, that legislation was passed to create the permanent Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario that would later, during the St. Lawrence Seaway/Power Project, expropriate the land where Sir Whitney was buried.
At the time of the Seaway, Holy Trinity was dismantled stone by stone and moved to Riverside Heights. At the same time, the memorials were deemed an integral part of the original memorial and moved to their location behind the church. Sir Whitney’s remains were not moved.