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'It's coming to be': Ground officially broken on new Aurora United Church

The redevelopment will see a seniors’ residence built alongside the new church and community hub
2021 06 14 Aurora United Church fire 2
Aurora United Church was destroyed in a fire in April 2014. Facebook photo/Epke Danstra

As they watched their spiritual home be destroyed by fire one April afternoon in 2014, Andy Comar and Lorraine Newton Comar never dreamed it would be more than seven years before they would set foot once again in a church building they could call their own.

While it will likely still be a year or two before they can cross the threshold, a new home for Aurora United Church took a significant step forward on Tuesday morning with an official ground-breaking ceremony at Yonge and Tyler streets.

The Comars, longtime leaders of the Aurora United Church community, presided over the ceremony, which was also attended by Mayor Tom Mrakas, members of the church council, Succession Developments and representatives from Amica Senior Lifestyles, a partner in the redevelopment that will see a seniors’ residence built alongside the new church and community hub.

Ahead of the ceremony, the reverends, along with Brian North, chair of the church’s EDGE property committee, said the last seven years had been a challenging journey but the July 13 event was the beginning of a long-awaited new chapter.

“You watch a blank piece of land for the longest time, now there’s so much happening it hasn’t really felt real for folks until now – and now it is real and it is happening,” says Newton-Comar. “Some very wise friends from British Columbia, who have gone through similar circumstances, said to us, ‘Don’t be surprised if it takes 10 years.’ We wouldn’t have believed them. Honestly, how can you think in a 10-year increment? I don’t think we could think that far ahead, but it is true. Everything takes time and that is what we’ve learned. At every step, we have learned that it takes more time than we anticipated.”

Indeed, some of the speedbumps along the path to this point were anything but expected.

North says the discovery of the remains of nearly 200 early settlers of Aurora on land previously occupied by the church, along with sorting out an easement on the property with Bell Canada, set the rebuild back at least two years.

The early settlers buried on site were part of the original faith community, but were not claimed by their relatives when the former cemetery was decommissioned for reinterment in Aurora Cemetery on the south end of town.

“I do believe that if we didn’t have the number of remains on the property from the old cemetery and we didn’t have the Bell easement we gave them in 1989, we would be further ahead than where we are,” said North, noting the remains that were excavated are being held in a secure site until further “legal complications” can be hammered out before their reinterment at the cemetery.

At the cemetery, where other settlers’ remains were moved more than 150 years ago, the individuals recently re-discovered will be memorialized with a commemorative marker.

Now that the sod has formally been turned, until construction begins in earnest, there is still not a firm timeline on when Aurora United Church will rise from the ashes.

“It might take a couple of years,” says North. “It is not something that is going to happen fast. We might find that the church is ready prior to the retirement home being ready. There are still a lot of unknowns. We don’t want to make a lot of promises as to how long and when.”

But the church community has been – and remains – ready to see action on site almost since day one.

“We have lost a lot of prominent people over these years that were very involved and influential in the church, which is a sad thing, but we’re still going strong,” says Comar.

Adds Newton-Comar: “It’s sad because there were those who would say, ‘We can hardly wait for the church’ and ‘I hope I make it to be there,’ and we will certainly remember them when we do get there. Whether you’re there or not, you’re there in spirit and those we’ve lost we will always hold their memory.”

Until that time, Aurora United Church will continue to share space at Trinity Anglican Church, a congregation that opened its doors to the United community just hours after the devastating fire, and hope to welcome parishioners in person once again this fall, pending public health restrictions.

“A lot of our sister churches are looking at September and our energies are really going towards how we will come back together as a community and [the church] council will be looking at that as soon as we get back,” says Newton-Comar. “We’re all getting anxious about getting back together and seeing each other in person.

“Our outreach ministries have continued during this time. We worried about that more than a year ago what the pandemic would bring to what we normally do and worship has continued, council has continued, the Saturday morning breakfast has continued, this time as an outdoor event, and I think we remain deeply hopeful that the mission of our church is still being realized and we have great hopes for the future.

“It is coming to be!”

Brock Weir is a federally funded Local Journalism Initiative reporter at The Auroran