by Cecilia Nasmith
Not much more than a year ago, St. Mary's Church in Grafton was seriously considering taking down its steeple because of the steep repair costs involved in repairing it.
In the ensuing months, the $860,000 project has been completed and the congregation is hoping their big Charity Antiques and Collectibles Auction and House Contents Tag Sale on Sunday will help retire the debt.
The end is in sight, parish council member Richard Holland said. The scoreboard display in front of the church shows that only $164,000 remains to be paid off. With luck, Father David West added, they can take down the scoreboard entirely after the July 22 event.
Everything will be on display in the gym at St. Mary Elementary School (next door to the church) at 11 a.m. Sunday, and there is an extraordinary number and variety of things to see. Father West's home and garage are stuffed with items (as are the homes and garages of many parishioners, Holland noted), and even a barn on his property is holding some of the bigger items (a sailboard, an old church organ, goalie nets).
A crew of 18 parishioners is organizing it all, and auctioneer Marshall Gummer of Colborne is donating his services to set up displays for what is to be auctioned off and what is to take shape as a tag sale (which Father West understands will involve setting aside some of the lower-value items and simply asking a price).
But that leaves a lot of amazing items – oil paintings of every style and subject, collectors' plates featuring such artists as Norman Rockwell, stained glass and statues, costume jewelry and collectors' pieces, farm equipment and tools, antique furniture and nice ordinary furniture.
One of the prize pieces of furniture is a roll-top desk that is obviously of modern construction from its excellent condiiton (and from its built-in computer ports).
“You should hear the chimes on that clock,” Father West exclaimed, singling out one of several beautiful old mantle clocks.
Other amazing antiques include a real whetstone wheel and an old-fashioned weigh scale, a beautiful century-old oil lamp and a number of old lanterns, vintage games and children's toys.
There are also what one might call collectibles – Royal Doulton figurines, stamps, record albums, baseball and hockey cards.
One of the more charming oddities is ideal for anyone with a rec-room bar – a statue of a red-jacketed lackey, wearing an apron, holding a tray and sporting a friendly can-I-help-you smile.
Gifts in kind are up for grabs, such as Elizabeth Lafontaine's offer of a photo shoot. Ste. Anne's spa is offering a one-hour massage, and you can bid on Maple Leafs tickets.
The St. Mary's cemetery board has donated two plots, and local funeral homes have provided two urns. Just to round things out, there is a $300 estate-planning gift card.
Anything left at the end of the day will be donated to St. Vincent de Paul, which has stores in Bowmanville and Peterborough – so everything's for charity, Father West pointed out.
This kind of booty was amassed over a couple of months, Holland said, through word-of-mouth, Facebook, Gummer's publicity and spirited supporters like Heather Swan of Port Hope, who has been out soliciting help from vendors and dealers in that neck of the woods.
Strolling toward the steeple, Father West pointed with pride. It's standing straight and tall now, with not a single leak. A number of rotting timbers were causing the slight eastward list, and this meant extra work and extra cost.
The generosity of the parishioners made this possible, he said, and this included two anonymous donations of $100,000 each and one for $50,000. He has also accepted a number of donations from members of the community at large, many of whom have said what a loss it would be to have the steeple removed.
“They see it coming from Colborne, coming from the 401, and it's like a fond memory for them,” Father West said.
“We have been able to pay down the half-million-dollar bank loan. The Bishop's office in Peterborough is amazed – we have been chop-chop-chopping at it.”
Sunday's mega-fundraiser promises to take another big bite out of it, and everyone is welcome.
Come by the school Sunday to see if there's a treasure you might like to take home. The preview starts at 11 a.m., the auction at noon, and admission is free.
The CWL will be offering lunch for $3, Holland said.
Payment will be accepted by cash or cheque only, and there are no buyer's premiums.