On a fine spring day, the bell tower of St. Giles United Church appears solid as a fortress. Only with a closer look the does peeling paint, broken windows and graffiti start to tell the story of yet another church in peril. At Main Street East and Holton Avenue the wrecking ball looms.
The United Church of Canada wants to demolish St. Giles. It’s redundant. The shrinking congregation at the Main Street East landmark was absorbed into Centenary United Church at Main Street West and MacNab Street. In a way St.Giles was sacrificed that Centenary (now called New Vision) might live.
An oasis of calm
You need to visit St. Giles to appreciate its presence. Fine details abound, intricate hinges, fine moulding, stained glass, impressive doors, hidden delights on all sides.
The day I visit a documentary crew is there, and Lance Cole has arrived on his army green bicycle to be interviewed for a Save St. Giles doc. Cole, is one of many trying to persuade the United Church to incorporate the neo-Gothic church into their planned housing development.
“Great architecture belongs to all of us and we don’t have a lot of landmarks in the east end of Hamilton that are still standing,” he says.
In addition to its imposing architecture, a church and the way it sits on a swath of lawn framed by mature trees, adds an oasis of peace to a neighbourhood.
Not long after I talk to Cole, two young women stop to ask about the church and the threat of demolition. Cole walks them through the life story of the 1913 church.
Time ticking to save St. Giles
While an active group scrambles to gain protection for the church, they are in a time squeeze.
Save St. Giles proponent Sarah Sheehan is encouraging people to request to speak to the April 6th Planning Committee meeting. At that meeting, a motion from the Municipal Heritage Committee to add St. Giles to the Register of heritage properties will be considered. The deadline to request a delegation through the city website is April 1. If St. Giles is registered it would add a 60-day buffer if a demolition request is put forward. There is also an online petition to save the church that can be signed at:https://www.change.org/p/hamilton-city-councillors-and-mayor-eisenberger-save-st-giles-church-hamilton
Shuttered churches can be found in many neighbourhoods in Hamilton. It’s an emotional issue for all involved. Where does the money come from to maintain an empty church? Previously Rev. Ian Sloan has said it costs $90,000 a year to maintain the structure. In a statement to Bay Observer today Sloan had this to say.
“Impact assessments that address questions that affect 85 Holton Ave. S are underway at this time, and New Vision will comment further when that work has been completed. I don’t want to speculate beyond this.”
Still, as Cole stated, good architecture is far from abundant in the neighbourhood. One only has to drive a few blocks to see the abandoned, poorly maintained buildings purchased for LRT, awash in litter and graffiti.
The proposed demolition of St. Giles has to sting.
New Vision Church is partnering with the real estate arm of the United Church in the proposed housing project. The architect on the file is from KPMB in Toronto. Perhaps an appeal to KPMB principal Bruce Kuwabara would open dialogue. The Hamilton born architect, and visionary for Pier 8 redevelopment has a strong empathy for the city and its remaining landmark architecture. Bay Observer has contacted Kuwabara for his thoughts.
For more information:
Architectural Conservation Ontario
Request to speak at city council
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