Torstar News Service
From her usual spot on the last pew beside the centre aisle, 88-year-old Lily Anthony watched as Rev. Bill Elliott stood below the pulpit and declared the deconsecration of their century-old congregation.
“Today as we leave this house of worship, accepting that it will be removed and replaced, may we feel a sense of fulfillment and completion… and be able to depart in peace,” said Elliott, looking intently at some of the tear-stained faces of his congregation’s 60 members.
The day was Dec. 31, 2012, the last time members of Glebe Presbyterian Church gathered in the midtown church where Anthony had been baptized, married and laid her husband to rest.
“Everyone was asking me if I was sad about the move but I told them I wasn’t,” Anthony said. “It was time to look onto the future.”
Built in 1914, the church joins a handful of places of worship in Toronto being converted into lofts. This year alone, at least five are being transformed into lofts and townhouses. Just recently, St. Clement’s Anglican Church in Leslieville was approved to be turned into 18 two-storey loft units with an extension of 20 loft-style units to be built in a nearby vacant land.
Comment: Not sure about five conversion projects… I can add the Sanctuary Lofts at 1183 Dufferin Street to the 3 in this article. Unless it is a new one involving this Glebe Presbyterian Church, which is for sale, but not slated for anything quite yet.
“This is by no means a new phenomenon,” said University of Toronto professor Brian Clarke, who specializes in Canada’s church history. “But the reason why there seems to be an increase in churches being turned into things like lofts is that memberships in congregations are shrinking and aging.”
Clarke said that “mainline churches,” which are mostly affiliated with Christianity, make up about 57% of Toronto’s religious population, according to the voluntary 2011 National Household Survey (NHS). They haven’t been growing since the 1970s.
According to figures provided by the churches, membership in the United Church declined by almost 10% from 24,210 in 2008 to 21,573 in 2011, while Presbyterian attendance decreased by 24% from 7,500 in 2001 to 5,700 in 2011. The Anglican Church has experienced a steep 29% decline from 321,580 in the 2001 census to 227,925 in the 2011 NHS.
Only the Roman Catholic Church reported growth from 1.6 million in 2001 to 1.8 million in 2011, mostly due to immigration, said spokesperson Bill Steinburg. The church has built four new parishes in the outskirts of the GTA over the last four years.
Unable to shoulder the financial strain of maintaining decades-old buildings, however, others haven’t been as lucky.
The United Church has closed six churches in the last three years while the Presbyterian Church has closed eight, three of which were turned into lofts.
“If you look around, a lot of the older churches are built near each other in the general downtown area so people could walk there on Sundays,” Clarke said. “But immigrants tend to settle in the suburbs where there’s more affordable housing so there are no people to offset the amount of people unable to go to church because of age.”
The west end in particular has seen a surge in development in recent years, said senior city planner Sarah Phipps, who oversees Ward 18, which stretches from Parkdale, the Junction to a part of Roncesvalles.
“Ward 18 is feeling the pressure right now as the city continues to grow and everything towards the east has been developed,” Phipps said.
Churches are especially highly sought after by developers, as they are mostly located in large, prime city lands, Phipps added.
Ward 18 is currently home to two church loft conversions. Perth Avenue Methodist Church at 243 Perth Ave is being turned into Union Lofts, a 22-unit four-storey loft, while The Anglican Church of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Cyprian is being converted into a 17-unit loft called West40.
On its last stages of construction, West40, a city-designated heritage site built in 1912, is close to being sold out, said architect Asen Vitko.
“There’s a demand for owning a piece of genuine real McCoy history rather than recreating a structure so it looks like something from previous eras,” Vitko said.
Heritage buildings in Toronto are particularly popular since the city “doesn’t have much history left” after several historical buildings got demolished between the ’50s to ’70s’, he added.
Comment: Do not get me started on the architectural and historical holocaust committed in the 1950s through the 1970s.
But owning a sliver of history doesn’t come cheap.
Conversions are usually priced higher than new constructions due to repairs that require recreating old water and century-old construction techniques originally used when the building was first constructed.
A two-bedroom unit at West40 costs around $750,000 while a new condo unit of the same size at Roncesvalles is priced at around $575,000.
Since most churches in Toronto are heritage buildings, the process of conversion is much more tedious, Phipps said.
Instead of only consulting city planners, developers also have to work with heritage architects to ensure that additions still preserve the building’s history.
The complexity of church to loft conversions, however, does not deter Vitko, who calls the “marrying of new construction to original construction” a labour of love.”
Phipps agreed, saying the loft conversions are a good use of the old churches and the space they have.
“These loft conversions keep Toronto’s history intact and provide unique solutions to extend the life of these buildings.”
Contact the Jeffrey Team for more information – 416−388−1960
Laurin & Natalie Jeffrey are Toronto Realtors with Century 21 Regal Realty.
They did not write these articles, they just reproduce them here for people
who are interested in Toronto real estate. They do not work for any builders.