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  • Jordan Snobelen

Fallen parishioners etched in glass at Cambridge church

A 40-foot tall window at downtown Galt’s Central Presbyterian Church won’t allow you to see the outside world, but it will let you peer into the past.

The several hundred panes of stained glass had to be removed last winter after the window’s supporting structure fell into disrepair. Years of a hard sun beating down on the glass, coupled with poor ventilation, caused entire sections of the window to bow and break.

The original “cathedral glass,” dating back to the church’s construction in the early 1800s, was replaced in 1920 — by the now defunct Robert McCausland Studios — with stained glass memorializing the names of parishioners who had served or died during First World War. In 1954, updates were made to include the names of Second World War veterans.

Horst Wohlgemut is the de facto project manager, who oversaw the recent three-year journey to help orchestrate the window’s resurrection into its former glory. This past fall, the panes were reassembled and installed by Sunrise Stain Glass out of London, Ont., to the tune of $90,500.

“You take a picture of the stained glass window the way it is, then you number each little piece ... it’s like a jigsaw puzzle, except that you know where these things are supposed to go,” he explained of the process.

Now a vibrant and detailed assortment of coloured glass panes come together in the eight by 40-foot window space. The entire assortment can be seen from the sanctuary, with a balcony dividing a top portion — depicting the biblical ascension of Jesus Christ into the heavens — from a bottom portion bearing close to 100 names of parishioners who served or died during both world wars.

To fund the project, the church was able to secure grants from the City of Cambridge through building revitalization and heritage grant programs, totalling $42,500, and Veterans Affairs Canada, who awarded $25,000 as part of a war memorial restoration grant program. Another $23,000 was raised through anonymous donations.

While the grant money hasn’t arrived yet, the restoration project which took nearly a year to complete, was able to begin thanks to a $60,000 interest-free loan from the Waterloo-Wellington Presbytery.

This past September, the Galt Legion’s “colour party,” with a pipe band and flags attended a re-dedication service for the war memorial window.

Wohlgemut, a longtime member of the church, says he sees the value in restoring the building, which has been given a heritage designation.

“It’s an icon in the city, it would be a shame to let that disappear,” he said.

On a tour of the church this past Sunday, Wohlgemut pointed out newly installed framing, lined with soft neoprene in the grooves where the panes sit, allowing the glass to shift and expand with changing temperatures. There’s also a new vented glass barrier on the exterior of the window to allow for air movement.

The church still has challenges ahead to keep the old building in shape; the war memorial window was a part of a 30-year plan outlining needed restorations.

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