A break-in at the vacant St. Giles church has revealed evidence of squatters, according to police.
A neighbour and member of the Friends of St. Giles called police Tuesday afternoon after noticing signs of a break-in. The inner stairwell was visible in the entry area for the church basement. St. Giles is located at Main St. E. and Holton Ave. S. in Hamilton’s Gibson-St. Clair neighbourhood.
Municipal Law Enforcement was present later that day to oversee repairs to secure the heritage church property. The MLE officer reported that, upon searching the church building, Hamilton Police found evidence of squatters in the basement. Mold has previously been listed as a health hazard present in the basement.
Late Tuesday night, another neighbour called police, after seeing unexpected lights on inside the church.
Previously posted urban explorer videos online show trespassing and squatting at St. Giles and Trinity Baptist (922 Main St. E.), another vacant heritage church property in Hamilton’s Ward 3.
Since April 2021, when Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann opted not to grant any protections to St. Giles, the Friends have reported numerous incidents and problems to municipal authorities, including trespassing, dumping, vermin, discarded needles, attempted arson, and vandalism, including to the War Memorial Cairn on Holton. Among those commemorated by the cairn is St. Giles architect Lt.-Col. Stewart, who died at Vimy Ridge.
However, a year after Council deferred designation of St. Giles, no progress appears to have been made by owners New Vision United Church in securing this vulnerable heritage property, leading to health and safety concerns by neighbours.
St. Giles was designed in 1912 by the prestigious Hamilton architecture firm Stewart & Witton, and has been part of the community for over 100 years. Despite over 2,500 signatures on a petition to save St. Giles — and being twice recommended for designation — the vacant, pre-WW1 building still lacks heritage protections.
In addition to monitoring St. Giles, the Friends are also in the process of incorporating as a not-for-profit, one of whose goals is to build on a $400K anonymous donation with additional fundraising, to be earmarked for adaptive reuse of St. Giles for the community.