Hilary Bates Neary

Grey Street East of Colborne Street, next to the British Methodist Episcopal Church


My name is Hilary Bates Neary. I belong to a community group called the Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project and we are looking at the original chapel next door to its daughter church on Grey street.

I got involved with a group that was working with the church to raise money to restore the building. As part of that I became active with a group of volunteers and heritage professionals to strip down the interior additions to the chapel and the exterior additions to return it closer to what it had been when it was first constructed. I was involved first in the sort of summer and fall of 2015, starting to remove the layers of the inside of the building. Because it had been a home for such a long period of time there were partitions in it and there were many layers of wall paper and layers on the floor… One of the questions that always was in the back of our minds–and this is often the case with heritage buildings–how can we be sure that this is really the chapel that was built by, you know, escaped and free Blacks who came to London, Ontario and built a worshiping community and wanted a place to worship in. The most exciting thing for all of us was when we finally tore down the partitions and tore down the dozens of layers of wallpaper in many cases, we discovered that there was wainscotting throughout the entire interior of this chapel on the exterior wall. It wasn’t built as a, you know, a domestic interior with partitions and so forth. This wainscotting proved that it was built as a one-room worship space and that was extremely gratifying and extremely exciting to all of us.

I’ve used an analogy which is actually a very Christian analogy because it comes straight out of the Bible. After Christ’s crucifixion, and when he came back, he came back to some of the apostles, but not to all of them. And Thomas was not amongst the first disciples to whom Jesus appeared and he told them, he wasn’t going to believe it until he could put his fingers into the wounds on Christ’s hands and side. Well I said, to me, finding the wainscotting around this chapel was like St. Thomas. You know, that I could put my hands in the wounds. This is the chapel. It was exciting to all of us to have that kind of final proof. That’s my story. [laughs].