Over a career spanning more than 30 years, Ray Adamyk has undertaken a number of large-scale restoration projects.
The latest venture of her Pomona-based company may be her most ambitious — revitalizing the church where Harriet Tubman worshiped near the Underground Railroad’s final stop.
To support these efforts, a fundraising walk will be held July 4 in Pomona, led by the Claremont resident and president of Spectra Company, which specializes in restoring and preserving historic buildings.
Located in Adamyk’s hometown of St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, Salem Chapel has played a vital role in the history of abolition and civil rights in Canada. The church, about 15 miles northwest of the Canada-US border, has become a prominent community space for Black Canadians and those fleeing slavery.
But in recent years, the 165-year-old building has fallen into disrepair and needs help restoring its status as a historic landmark. Although it was listed as a historic site in 1999, the Salem Chapel needs new windows, plumbing and roofing, and extensive touch-ups, totaling $3 million.
This is where Adamyk comes in. It is contributing $200,000 in services for the work, which is expected to begin in 2023.
After a discussion about helping racial reconciliation in 2020, Adamyk began researching Tubman’s life. Adamyk, who grew up a stone’s throw from Salem Chapel, was unaware of his story and his connection to the famous abolitionist for most of his life.
“Most people don’t know where the last Underground Railroad stop is in a little town called St. Catharines in Canada,” Adamyk said by phone this month. “I quickly understood how special this place is.
“People come from all over the world because they want to be in that chapel where Harriet Tubman sat and worshipped,” he said. “I mean, I didn’t even know that and I happen to have grown up on the streets.”
After contacting the chapel in 2021, he got in touch with Rochelle Bush, church trustee and resident historian, who told him about the dilapidated state of the building. When Bush said the church needed restoration, it all started to click for Adamyk.
Having previously restored historic buildings including the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, the Catalina Casino in Avalon and the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Adamyk said “it’s all part of my calling.”
“I told her (Bush), ‘You know what, we’re going to come to church and we’re going to restore that to Harriet Tubman’s legacy,'” Adamyk said. “It was something she couldn’t believe at first and she started crying because after all these years the church was going to get the help it so badly needed.”
Born and raised in St. Catharines, Bush has deep roots in church history. Her maternal great-great-grandfather was the minister in charge of the Salem chapel when Tubman lived in the city from late 1851 to early 1862, according to the church’s website.
In 1853, freedom seekers and freed slaves who arrived in St. Catharines via the Underground Railroad built the church, then known as Bethel Chapel AME Church. The building was home to about 200 people, and some of their descendants are still there today, Adamyk said.
In recent years, church membership has dropped to seven, Bush told Adamyk. But with plans to restore the church to its former glory, there is optimism, Bush said.
“I truly hope that Ray will be the answer to our prayers and succeed in restoring the much-deserved Salem Chapel,” Bush said in a statement.
With $100,000 previously raised for renovations through crowdsourcing and an additional $100,000 received last year through the Federal Initiative to Support Black Canadian Communities, the project is on track.
Adamyk is partnering with the City of Pomona to raise funds for the church as part of Unity Day LA on July 4. The 1.5-mile walk will begin in Lincoln Park, where a statue of Tubman is expected to be unveiled, before ending at the Fairplex.
Mayor Tim Sandoval called Adamyk’s efforts and the new statue an opportunity for young people to learn about Tubman’s impact.
“It’s important in a park named after Lincoln that we have a statue of a person who represents what it was like to go through and endure slavery and not just endure but fight,” Sandoval said by phone last week.
The event will include celebrity boxing, family activities, musical guests and fireworks, Adamyk said. Proceeds will go towards restoring the chapel, but Adamyk has also launched a GoFundMe campaign.
For Adamyk, who visited the church last year, Tubman’s story needs to be told and given the respect it deserves.
“Can you imagine the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial not being supported?” Adamyk asked. “But it’s an African American place and some people think it’s not as important, well it’s hugely important and should be treated as such.”