Billings council has yet again voted in favour of the status quo! After a unique presentation was made to council at their meeting on September 21 to purchase and repurpose the Old Church on the Hill into a dynamic community-owned space, the answer was a resounding no after a special closed session was held to discuss the proposal.
At the subsequent regular council meeting held on October 6, Mayor Ian Anderson spoke of the historical significance of the church and enumerated some of the difficulties in trying to install running water and septic. He spoke of causing “the least amount of harm to the few” and stated that the township would not consider divesting themselves of this asset. Harm? What harm would be caused by a passionate group of residents who have taken the time and interest to propose something that would reinvigorate the community? Why turn it down out of hand when the purchase of the church would only move forward after an extensive survey of Billings residents to determine their interest in such a venture and then an offer to purchase could be negotiated?
This proposal came out of a small survey done at the Kagawong market where 78 percent of the respondents wished to see a variety of community events, similar to the ones the former recreation committee used to plan.
In fact, Billings was known and admired around the Island for its events including Summerfest, Winterfest, Halloween parties, Cabin Fever Games Night, community dinners, etc. Now members of council will tell you the lack of organized events is due to COVID-19 but, in fact, there have been few noticeable events co-ordinated by any committee of council since the demise of the recreation committee in June of 2019 and the start of COVID in March 2020.
And what use has been made of the Old Church on the Hill since its purchase by the township in 2018? To quote the township’s website, it’s available for rental from the beginning of June until the end of October each year for $100 per day. No improvements have been made to the building other than the construction of a stage which was undertaken after fundraising by a few individuals who were organizing some musical events. 4elements also made good use of the church in 2019 to hold a wonderful Elemental Festival which ran from September 26-29. It was a wonderful event with a wide variety of musical performances (workshops were held at the Park Centre) and was very well attended. Other than that, I am not aware of any indoor use of the church nor is there any plan proposed or discussed by council for its use.
The proposal to purchase the church would turn it into a three-season facility and would be a win-win scenario for the township. As a community-owned space run by a steering committee, all the work involved in fundraising, pursuit of available grants and carrying out necessary renovations would be removed from council’s workload and insurance and taxes would be looked after.
Two members of the United Church community were contacted and were in support of seeing this historic building put to good use and maintained. St. Paul’s on the Hill United Church contributed to the community fabric of Kagawong over decades—community ownership of the church building would continue that important legacy. As everyone knows, an empty building soon falls into disrepair.
Will our beautiful Kagawong simply become a tourist town or will be it be a vibrant community that is responsive to its residents’ needs? Judging by what has occurred here, council’s vote is for the tourists versus residents!