Doing all that one can to try and preserve a piece of history that’s closely linked to one’s own heritage is something that we see from time to time here on the Prairies. Our landscapes are dotted with aging farmhouses and old infrastructure; buildings forged from wood and steel that have generations of stories to tell, but through no fault of their own, have been seemingly forgotten as the years have rolled on.
One small church building near the village of Glenside that hasn’t held a regular service in 45 years hasn’t been forgotten by a dedicated handful of people.
The Jan Hus United Church, originally established in 1913 as the Bohemian Presbyterian Church and then named after the Czech reformer and martyr Jan Hus in 1929, holds fond memories for descendants of the Czech settlers who first came into the Glenside district generations ago.
Larry Mikulcik, who sits on a committee of just four people who carry out efforts to maintain the connected cemetery, says that shortly after there were no longer any services being held at the church on a regular basis, 11 congregation members organized the committee to oversee the cemetery. Larry himself just joined up a short time ago, and he says the group is looking for some more ‘new blood’ to come up with possible solutions to save the old church building.
“I just joined the committee maybe about a month ago simply because the members who are on this committee, three of them were original members of that committee, so they’re all in their 80’s, including my uncle Chester Mikulcik,” said Larry, on the phone with The Outlook. “So, they’re looking for some younger blood – not that I’m a whole lot younger, but I’m probably 25 years younger than most of them. We don’t have a committee to take care of the church building, but there isn’t anybody being targeted with taking care of the building except my uncle Chester and Lester Hart, two of the members who have always maintained the church. It was shingled in the 1980’s and there was some work done in the attic, reinforcing it to securely connect the walls. They’ve been caring for the building, but now we’re at that point where we have to make a very significant decision on what to do with it.”
The building that would eventually become the Jan Hus United Church has deep roots in the Glenside area, being built from local people.
“The initial church, which isn’t this building, but the congregation started in 1913,” said Larry. “A few years later, they were able to put together enough funding to purchase the lumber and build the church, so it’s a church that was built and designed by local people, right down to the pews. They didn’t have regular services in the wintertime, but they had spring, summer and fall services. The church property is actually on what was my mom and dad’s land, and in those days, if you were facing the congregation, the left side is where the men sat and the right is where the women sat, and in the center section is where young families sat with their kids.”
The church was a central hub in the community.
“For the Czech community, this was naturally a gathering spot for people from around the Glenside district,” said Mikulcik. “Today, some of the descendants are quite a ways away, which happens, but there are still some regional families that farm in the area, like the Solnickas and the Mikulcik families.”
The church itself is in pretty solid shape, Larry says, but it’s the roof that needs attention.
“Right now, the main need for it is shingling,” he said. “The shingles are blowing off and the last time it was done was in the 1980’s. We’re hoping that if there’s an appetite to move forward in maintaining and saving the church, it’s shingling that needs doing. The rain we just had, I went over after to mop up the floor, and it’s starting to swell and buckle a bit. It’s open and not locked, and people actually do go out to see it.”
The price tag isn’t quite as steep as a lot of other construction projects might be, but Mikulcik says it’s really just about having the right people on the committee that can help do the work in obtaining any funds that need to be raised.
“I have one quote and I’ve got a couple of others to get in touch with, but the one quote is for just over $8,000,” he said. “The cemetery committee does have money and is willing to use some of that, and I know there is probably another $3,000 committed towards that cost. So, it’s not like we’re looking at the full $8,000, probably just a shortfall that’s closer to $4,000. I’ve heard from a few people to maybe put together a GoFundMe page, but the downside is we don’t have a committee to manage that, so that’s the other thing – I’d be willing to do it, but I don’t want to be a committee of one. I’d like at least two or three other people to join me in some of the decision making and doing some of the legwork.”
The Jan Hus United Church was included in the book entitled, ‘Legacy of Worship’ and the cemetery committee’s efforts in maintaining the property received commendation in a letter dated January 2019 by the previous Czech ambassador to Canada, Pavel Hrncir.
Mikukcik hopes that by reaching out to descendants of former members, a plan can be formed to decide on the best course of action for the future of the church. It’s a solid building from a physical standpoint, but there’s another reason why a decision has to be made.
“The building itself would survive another winter, but it’s the roof itself that’s another issue,” said Larry. “We know snow in its natural form won’t leak in through a roof, but it’s more the rains. It’s just a matter of surviving a rainy season and a significant amount of it. The building itself is in good shape considering that it hasn’t had a really significant overhaul. Sure, it needs some paint, but it doesn’t need residing. We’ve actually given ourselves a bit of a deadline, a self-imposed one of probably next spring where we have to make a decision, especially because the United Church of Canada wants to divest itself of it and that means that we have a liability factor as well.”
Mikulcik invites anyone who is interested in preserving the Jan Hus United Church to reach out to him if they have questions or suggestions. Larry can be reached at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you wish to reach Larry by regular mail, he’s also given this newspaper permission to include his mailing address at Box 111 in Glenside, postal code S0H 1T0.