“Take time to thank a neighbour.”
That’s the first message Rev. Alexa Gilmour has put up on a new illuminated signboard on the lawn of Windermere United Church after community members raised the money to pay for it.
Gilmour says the small congregation of the church, near Bloor and Jane Sts., has plenty to be grateful for in the wake of an ugly dispute with a sign company that withdrew its services last year after allegedly objecting to posting a message encouraging people to “wish your Muslim neighbours” a Happy Ramadan, and another celebrating Pride Week. That dispute is still before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
“The community came together to stand with us in a moment when we felt it’s important not to stay silent in the face of racism, homophobia and hatred,” says Gilmour, who, along with the community, will hold a dedication service Sunday to commemorate the official launch of the new signboard.
“Our neighbours wanted to make sure our inclusive voice would not be silenced. This reminds us that we are not alone and we do not do it alone when we stand up against oppression.”
For years, Gilmour had posted spiritual messages on the rented sign provided by Archer Mobile Signs to inspire church members and passersby in the Swansea neighbourhood. Those messages have included “Listen to the stories of a veteran. Remember the cost. Commit to peace” on Remembrance Day or “Hold someone who grieves on Mother’s Day.”
She was forced to replace the signboard with a temporary one borrowed from a neighbourhood dance school when Steven Thompson, owner of the signage company, ended its service over their disagreement.
In February, area residents launched a fundraising campaign for the new permanent sign after they noticed the rental signboard had vanished and wanted to bring back the beloved messages that used to make them pause and feel inspired.
By spring, through online crowdfunding and word of mouth, the community raised the $20,000 needed for the 1.5-by-2 metre sign. A lengthy permit application process ensued through the summer before the contractor was able to put the sign in the ground this month.
“The sign has touched people in a way not seen before. It’s the symbol of the action we took to stand up against oppression, to say we believe in diversity and celebrate diversity. Remaining silent about hatred is not an option,” says Gilmour. “It will continue to be the beacon of inspiration for the community.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new sign will begin at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on the front lawn of the church, where area residents are invited to celebrate over hot chocolate.
Thompson has not responded to the Star’s repeated requests for comment about the human rights complaint.
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