Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Port Medway's Carroll Baker, renowned as Canada's First Lady of Country Music, is now the proud owner of the historic Port Medway Baptist Church.
Through a decision by the church's membership on October 1, Baker became the successful bidder on what was her home church for years.
"It's very, very exciting. I wasn't, like, overly hopeful, because there had been so many delays," she recalled in an interview. The delays left the country music artist wondering if she should even keep trying for the church.
"But I had this desire in me from the beginning in December that I wanted to make sure that the church would always be a church," she said.
Baker identifies strongly with the church, which was consecrated in 1872. The first time she sang on stage was in the building at a Christmas concert. She attended Sunday School there along with weddings and funerals.
"The memories are very strong and are of a spiritual nature. My first introduction to God was in that church," she said. "I did not want anything to take away from the dignity of the church."
Greg Clattenburg, co-chair of the church committee, said the church had been up for sale for about seven months following the loss of its pastor. There were three proposals for the building.
"It takes some time to get things like this done. All proposals have to be vetted by the congregation. They have to have a meeting and take a vote," he said. "Not all live here so it did take some time."
Baker found it tough to wait for the decision.
"I heard there were many different circumstances for the delay. I cried many times. My heart seemed to be getting broken every time something stopped it," she said. "Then I thought, 'I have to just keep having faith. If God wants me to acquire the church, then he will guide me what to do with it, how to maintain it. If not, then fine, I will accept that.' That's how I felt about it, and still feel about it."
She plans to basically keep the building as a church that will allow for weddings and funerals to be held.
John Brown, executive director of the Friends of Carroll Baker Society, has been adamant that Baker should have a place to display her awards and create something like a Carroll Baker Centre, but agreed the building should maintain its integrity as a church.
The church reportedly is generally sound structurally, however Baker wants to explore adding running water and washroom facilities to the site.
She hopes the community will accept the church as their building and that the community, fans, family and friends will be a part of keeping the building useable.
According to Baker, many of her musical friends are backing her on this and would willingly be a part of fundraising concerts to help with maintenance costs.
Baker was born in Bridgewater and grew up in Port Medway in a home that was built by her father. She and her family moved to Ontario when she was 15, after her father was offered a job in Oakville.
She met her husband there. They've been married for 52 years and currently reside in Guelph.
Although Baker hasn't actually lived in the Port Medway area for years, she's retained strong connections to the place.
"Just because I am living in Ontario does not mean that my home is not still in Port Medway. It will always be home for me," said Baker.
Her brother Willis and family still live in the family home and her mother lived in a nearby home until she died in 2002. Baker and her husband own property in West Berlin and at Blueberry Lake. The couple and family members continue to make regular visits to the area.
Baker has held several concerts over the years in Bridgewater and Liverpool, as well as been a part of numerous Blessing of the Fleet events. She's also been a featured artist at Bridgewater's South Shore Exhibition and Liverpool's Privateer Days.
She was scheduled to headline the Hank Snow Tribute this past summer and was planning to do a few concerts in the area on a Christmas tour. All have been postponed to next year.
In all, Baker has been on stage for more than 50 years entertaining fans from coast-to-coast in Canada, the United States and Europe.
She's received gold and platinum records in certified sales in Canada and Australia and has had more than 20 Number One records, 12 of which were consecutive. That record remains unbroken in Canada by a Canadian country music artist on the RPM Country Music Charts.
While Baker said the awards are wonderful, she insisted they don't define who she is.
"They are not the most important things in life. Rewards are. When you see your fans, who come to see you night after night in concert showing how much they care for you, that is rewarding," she said.