The Martyrs' Shrine in Midland, Ont., continues to be a place of pilgrimage and prayer for the thousands of faithful who come here from around the world. They worship in Canada's only national shrine outside of Quebec, built to honour the Jesuits who were killed in the area in the 1640s.
But in its 93rd year, the shrine faces an incredible challenge which it is working to overcome.
The Martyrs' Shrine, together with the Jesuit fathers and local community, are hoping to raise a significant amount of money to cover the cost of a new specialized dry-air fire suppression system that is required for the church to remain open to the public.
When the church was first completed in 1926, it was adorned with wood, stone, glass and gold. Its very design sought to express the mission of St. Jean de Brebeuf and his companions.
The church, however, was never insulated and is not heated throughout the winter months. The shrine has thus identified a pressing need this year: A new fire suppression system, including replacing its pipes that are at the end of their life.
Memories of the historic fire at Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019 has pushed the shrine to be pro-active in their efforts, hoping to avoid a situation where the church — which is mainly built out of wood — has to be shut.
Fire suppression systems channel water to sprinklers throughout a building. It will cost upwards of $225,000 to replace the current system, which was installed in 1980.
That sounds like a lot of money, but if every pilgrim who came through their grounds contributed an extra $2.00 on top of their admission fee, the shrine would have enough money by the end of the season to begin this significant project.
Allex Laurin, Manager of Marketing and Communications for Martyrs' Shrine, spoke about how the shrine has a responsibility to care for the incredible beauty and history that has been left to them to preserve.
"The shrine continues to be a living legacy for many people, especially the martyrs who have gone before us," he said.
"We are excited about this Toonie Challenge and hope that many of our benefactors and supporters will participate enthusiastically."
Laurin remarked that the campaign is picking up momentum and that many have contributed throughout the season. Some benefactors, as well, have opted to demonstrate their support with larger donations.
"We are grateful and look forward to a successful result."
Besides the fire suppression system, there is much more to maintain and look after. The shrine has identified more opportunities to rebuild and expand on the mission of the martyrs' in the years to come.
For more information about the Martyrs' Shrine, its programming throughout the year and their ongoing Toonie Challenge, visit www.martyrs-shrine.com.