Decision to deny demolition permit for St. Joseph Church rectory irks parishioners

 

The St. Joseph Church rectory is at the centre of a controversy as town council has refused to allow a demolition permit to be issued that would allow the building to come down.

The St. Joseph Church rectory is at the centre of a controversy as town council has refused to allow a demolition permit to be issued that would allow the building to come down.

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council has denied a request from St. Joseph Church to demolish its rectory with the town’s heritage committee hoping to have the building designated as a heritage site.

Representatives from the Amherstburg Heritage Committee appeared before council last Tuesday night arguing that the rectory should be saved based on its historical significance, architecture and impact the loss of the rectory would have on River Canard. The church countered by stating the building no longer fits their needs and is too expensive to repair when the congregation is trying to fundraise for ongoing upgrades of the church itself, a building that has already been designated as historic.

Marc Pillon and Paul Hertel from the Amherstburg Heritage Committee not only asked for the demolition permit to be denied but also called for Bylaw 2003-89 to be amended. The latter, should council follow through with the process, would see the bylaw also include the rectory “with its cultural and exterior architecture attributes.”
Pillon told town council it is the committee’s contention that the rectory falls within cultural heritage attributes. The building, constructed in 1910, also has contextual value, he believed, meaning the rectory helps maintain the character of the area and is linked to its surroundings as a landmark.

The church and rectory were constructed under the direction of Father Joseph Albert Loiselle, someone who is significant to the River Canard community and was vital in its development, Pillon added.

“With the loss of either one of these buildings (the church and the rectory), we believe the character of the area would be significantly impacted,” stated Pillon.

Hertel said Loiselle helped assemble the lands to build the church, rectory and now-demolished convent. The rectory helps represent Loiselle’s role in the broader Catholic community in Ontario and Hertel further contented the entire site is a centre for parish renewal plans Loiselle had as well as a centre for community expansion and renewal.

Loiselle also promoted bilingual culture in the area and also education as he also helped found the school in  River Canard.

“He clearly was a community leader,” said Hertel.

Pillon believed the rectory was “generally in good shape” and that there is not much evidence to indicate it is too costly. He added there has been “little to no effort to find a re-use of the building.”

Erin King and Tony Magri of the St. Joseph Church finance committee did not doubt the importance of Loiselle’s contributions but indicated the existing rectory was built as a home for multiple priests and is too large for what is needed now. King said the present Catholic community of St. Joseph Church would like to honour Loiselle’s memory by restoring the church for another 100 years and that task is “first and foremost on the minds of the parishioners,” King told town council.

St. Joseph Church would like to build a smaller home on the site of the current rectory and have it contain similar architectural features as the current rectory, King added. She called it “a more modest building” that would fit into the neighbourhood and be easier to support financially.

“The current rectory is a financial burden to our community,” she said.

King told town council there are “many massive repairs that need to be rectified” and that includes flooding issues, mould, bricks, roof and window repairs. A Jan. 4 tour with chief building official Steve Brown saw the verdict be that the building require “substantial renovations just to meet codes.”

“The rectory is not included in the heritage designation,” said King. “It is not as old as the church and there are no architectural elements that make it unique.”

Many of the parish community are in favour of the demolition, she added, and emphasized maintenance of the current rectory is a financial burden for the congregation.

“Please allow the parish community to make decisions that are best suited to our needs,” she asked council. “We believe, above all, our church must be preserved.”

King added people are willing to donate for the church renovations and towards construction of a new home on the site but there isn’t anyone who wants to donate towards the current rectory. She added there are many issues that can be seen and odours that can be smelled but, under a question from Councillor Diane Pouget, she said they have not pursued any official opinions from the board of health.

Magri told town council just to stabilize the building would be $275,000. He said it has been vacant since September when the pastor had health issues forcing him out.

“We had to get him out of there,” said Magri.

Brown told council the building is currently unheated and there is water penetration in the walls. He said it was “hard to say” how much mould was in the building but told elected officials there were conditions for mould growth found within the current rectory. There is also accessibility, insulation, mechanical and wiring matters that need looking after as well as brick repointing. He pegged restoration efforts to be in the neighbourhood of $400,000 to $600,000.

Mayor Wayne Hurst said a new building would take care of health and accessibility concerns and believed the congregation came up with a plan that is in the best interests of the church.

Hurst added the situation reminded him of the controversy that occurred when the Salmoni Building was demolished in favour of a new building, the latter being something he called “an attraction” in the downtown core.

“If some people had their way, the Salmoni Building would still be a derelict building today,” said Hurst.

Councillor John Sutton, whose motion to approve the demolition permit failed, said numerous churches in the area are going through a similar process to that of St. Joseph Church. He said saving the rectory has been deemed “not practical” from a financial point of view and that designation should not occur against the wishes of the church community.

Council voted 4-2 to deny the permit with Pouget, Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland and councillors Bart DiPasquale and Carolyn Davies voting in favour of that motion.

The church’s Feb. 23 newsletter encourages parishioners to contact members of council to voice their opinions on council’s decision to deny the demolition permit.

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