Thieves make off with part of fence at Mohawk Chapel

Thieves made off with a piece of an expensive fence the historic Mohawk Chapel in Brantford installed over the summer to ward off arson threats.

Barry Hill, chair of the Mohawk Chapel committee, told Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council on Monday that soon after security cameras were installed outside the chapel September, the surveillance caught thieves making off with parts of the $35,000 temporary fence.

The historic chapel, known formally as Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks, is the oldest church in Ontario. Built in 1785 by the British Crown as a gift to the Mohawks for their loyalty to the Crown during the American Revolution, the church was designated a National Historic Site in 1981.

The chapel became the target of arson threats in June, when other churches across the country went up in flames in response to the discovery of previously unmarked graves at residential school sites across Canada. Indigenous children were forced to attend church-run schools across the country until the last one closed down in 1997 in an attempt to assimilate them into Canadian culture.

“We were quite concerned,” Hill said in deciding to put up the fence. The chapel committee also hired night security after a church on Six Nations was torched in early July.

“There were comments on Facebook and other social media about the chapel and it was being included in the general conversations that were happening around the country in that time frame about churches, following the discovery of the graves out west,” said Hill. “Several churches were burned across the country, mostly Catholic churches by the way.”

After Johnsfield Baptist Church on Six Nations was set ablaze in early July, the chapel took more drastic action.

“The climate was quite concerning at that time,” said Hill. “And we were concerned about our safety. The tour guide was feeling threatened being up there. She was relocated down to Chiefswood Park eventually.”

The chapel is tourist draw, said Hill, and it also teaches Six Nations history to visitors.

“It’s an important site to preserve for that very purpose…to provide information to people. With the climate being what it was, the concern was, ‘how do we protect it?’ And our insurance company offered to put up a fence and secure some of the artifacts.”

Some of the chapel’s artifacts are already secured in a vault. Those artifacts include some silver pieces and a 300-year-old Bible.

“I’m not going to tell you where,” Hill said with a laugh. “Nevertheless, we were worried about the site. That’s what happened. A fence went up. It was up for quite some time.”

Outdoor surveillance cameras were installed in September.

“At that point, it was decided we could maybe look at taking the fence down.”

The theft occurred after the security guard was pulled off the site.

“Apparently, we were being stalked,” said Hill.

The fence was removed at the end of November.

It cost $19,000 to have the security guard on the premises through the summer. It cost $35,000 for the fence.

Coun. Helen Miller suggested installing a permanent fence.

“I think it’s time to do that.”

Hill said the committee would discuss putting up a permanent fence, but said it doesn’t really keep people out.

Cameras at the chapel have recorded people jumping over the temporary fence, standing on historical Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant’s tomb, and waving at the cameras.

“The fence we had isn’t foolproof. We need to start getting up to into 12 foot with razor wire on top and I don’t know if that’s what we want to do. We’ve got security inside. We’ve got cameras outside. Maybe we need to have guards year-round, I don’t know.”

Miller said it sounds like it’s getting to the point a permanent fence is needed.

“Security cameras are great but security cameras don’t stop people from vandalizing. You just get to see who they are. I would suggest…start thinking about more safety measures.”

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