Last stand imminent for Alma College chapel

city_scope_logo-cmykAfter years of broken promises, neglect, vandalism and the ravages of weather, the final countdown has begun for the Alma College chapel.
Mind you little remains of the chapel — opened in 1948 and, in more caring times, known as Ella D. Bowes Chapel — save for the brick walls and a barely hanging together roof.
Friday morning, new owner Gino Reale of London was given permission by the city to demolish the chapel in which many St. Thomas and area couples were married.
He told this corner the structure was far beyond any hope of restoration and had become a serious safety hazard after several small fires and a roof courting collapse.
Final rights for the chapel could come as early as the beginning of the week.
Most frustrating in all of this is previous owner George Zubick had been issued a list of cleanup priorities by Wade Woznuk, at that time property standards officer for the city. Those included repairs to the chapel roof with an engineer “to inspect to determine extent of structural damage and required repairs.”
Those repairs were to include new asphalt roof shingles.

Alma College chapel

The sorry state today of the chapel is testament to the complete disregard shown by the Zubicks and the lack of action on the city’s part to once again enforce building orders.
To be fair, however, attempting to ensure building orders are adhered to likely will lead to costly court battles, as is currently the case with David McGee, owner of the Sutherland Press building.
In any event, we had contacted city manager Wendell Graves last August to enquire about the status of those 2009 conditions.
Following consultation with chief building officer Chris Peck, they were not aware of the 2009 list of conditions from Woznuk to Zubick.
However digging back into the files at city hall the order was found, although Peck cautioned “something that stale is not even worth chasing after as it would not hold a lot of water in the court.”


Gino Reale of London stands outside the gate of the former Alma College with the music building and chapel still standing.

Peck added it wasn’t worth pursuing a new property standards order but “We will focus on the chapel . . .  It’s (the chapel) a shell, really, but if we’re going to preserve the shell we need to get on that before it goes through too many more seasons.”
Like the tattered remains of the chapel roof, Peck’s attempt at preservation didn’t hold water.
As for what will become of the remaining structure on the property, Reale says he will attempt to salvage the heavily damaged music building.
As for the badly overgrown amphitheatre, his hope is to undertake basic cleanup and sell the unique site to the city or any party interested in returning it to functional use.

Related posts:

Alma College sold to London developer

Time for straight talk on the future of Alma property

Property standards must be enforced at Alma College site

Alma College, what was lost and what was learned

Withheld Alma report may have saved college

Deputation to St. Thomas council by Alma Advocacy Association

An Alma Christmas story

City abdicates heritage responsibilities

Calling it a win-win situation, Shmuel Farhi and the city have entered into negotiations on two properties owned by the London developer.
Graves announced the municipality has extended a conditional offer to Farhi to purchase a vacant plot of land at 230 Talbot St., between William and Queen streets, and extending south to Centre St.
The site is being considered for development of a community hub to house Ontario Works and the Central Community Health Centre.
Should the deal be consummated, it will result in the uprooting of residents currently housed at 16, 18 and 20 Queen St.
QueenstreethomesjpgWe asked Graves for clarification on the status of those isolated homes.
“They are part of the property,” Graves confirmed, “so when we take ownership it will be vacant possession and then they would become part of our whole planning strategy for the property.”
To clarify, vacant possession means “the current owner (Farhi) has to manage the tenants and he would have to put them on notice.”
Graves advised it would be the city’s plan to demolish the trio of houses ultimately.
As for Farhi’s involvement after the sale, Graves noted this would strictly be a real estate transaction.
“We will be managing all the design and building aspects and all that on our side. He will not be involved.”
The second property is the Mickleborough building at 423 Talbot St., current home of Ontario Works, whose lease with Farhi expires next year.

Full page photo

Mickleborough Building on Talbot St. in St. Thomas.

We advised readers a month ago to watch for developments on this stately structure at the corner of Mary St. We noted the last thing the city would desire is another empty hulk towering over Talbot Street.

Speaking to Graves on Wednesday he observed, “We didn’t want to create yet another vacant building downtown so we’re going to be doing due diligence and looking at some housing on the second and third floors and take a look at potential uses for the main floor.”
Both properties will be  discussed at Monday’s council meeting.

Related posts:

City to further invest in west end

Will council give green light to Sutherland Press building demolition?

St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital CEO bowing out on a high note


“We’ve got a master plan, an executive summary of it and now we’re going to unleash it on the world.”

Serge Lavoie, president of On Track St. Thomas commenting on the master plan for Canada’s first elevated park to be located atop the Michigan Central Railroad bridge, unveiled at a public meeting at the CASO station.

City Scope appears Saturday in the St. Thomas Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to

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