‘The fiasco of Alma College should not be repeated’

city_scope_logo-cmykSo, what do you do with a vacant downtown church that is described as “an exemplary building representing the economic, cultural and architectural values of the City of St. Thomas?”
And, how does the city protect this architectural gem now that it is on the selling block?
City council on Monday (July 13) is being asked to to allow administration to begin the notice of intent process to declaring the vacant Trinity Anglican Church at 55 Southwick Street a heritage property under the Ontario Heritage Act.
The current owner (the Anglican Diocese) is not considering designation at this time, and why would they? That move would certainly impact the sale of the property.
The church was officially opened on May 27, 1877, built to replace Old St. Thomas Pioneer Church on Walnut Street.

Of note, Trinity Anglican Church held its first service four years prior to St. Thomas becoming a city.
Trinity Anglican Church exteriorIn its analysis for reasons for designation, the city’s Municipal Heritage Committee (MHC) notes the church, designed by architect Gordon William Lloyd, has been pictured as “one of the most beautiful churches in this part of Canada,” by author Leroy Harvey in A Polite Parallelism of St. Thomas.
In its analysis, the MHC advises, “Overall, the Trinity Anglican Church building is in relatively good condition, and is currently owned by the Anglican Diocese.
“Any repair and maintenance to the building in the future should ensure the protection of the original design, materials, windows, and finishes of the building.”
Inside the structure, the colours of the Elgin Regiment as well as the colours of the 91st Battalion of Elgin are displayed as a tribute to those who lost their lives in the two world wars.

Trinity Anglican church with 91st Battalionjpg

The interior of Trinity Anglican Church in St. Thomas showing the flag of the 91st Battalion.

The latter was the area’s overseas unit during the First World War.
The MHC analysis notes, “The church is also home to a piece of Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, which is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and forms part of a World Heritage Site.”
In summary, the MHC observes, “Trinity Anglican Church is absolutely a landmark on Wellington Street, within the surrounding neighbourhood, and throughout the City of St. Thomas.

“The uses above would allow the public to continue to enjoy the space for years to come. The building would be an added tourist attraction for downtown St. Thomas, since concerts and restaurants would draw visitors from other communities, including London.”

“With its exceptional architectural detail, ornate spire, beautiful stained glass windows, and close proximity to the street, it is easily one of the most visually striking buildings within the City of St. Thomas.
“The spire also provides a visual connection to the church and can be seen from long distances away. Many generations of residents have personal connections with the church, and it remains an important part of the cultural fabric of our community.”
In a letter of support for heritage designation, Jennifer Grainger, president of the London Region Branch of Architectural Conservancy Ontario warns of “demolition by neglect.”
A stinging reminder of the demise of Alma College.
Grainger writes the best outcome would be for another Christian congregation to buy the church.
That surely would seem unlikely given the number of church closures over the past few years.
Otherwise, notes Grainger, the church would be ideal for a concert hall, an ideal suggestion given the 400 to 600 seat capacity of the sanctuary.
Can you imagine having the city’s own version of London’s Aeolian Hall?
Another suggestion is a restaurant such as Revival House in Stratford.
The poorest outcome apart from demolition, warns Grainger, is to subdivide the church into apartments or offices which would mean the partition of the sanctuary.
Such an outcome would mean the church would only be enjoyed by a few individuals.
Grainger points out, “The uses above would allow the public to continue to enjoy the space for years to come. The building would be an added tourist attraction for downtown St. Thomas, since concerts and restaurants would draw visitors from other communities, including London.”
Excluded from the sale are the bell, originally from Old St. Thomas Church, and the many stained glass windows.
Grainger suggests the bell, if removed, should return to its original home.
Likewise, the windows are “an important architectural feature of the church and (their) removal will be detrimental to the building’s heritage significance.
“I recommend that the City of St. Thomas makes every effort to prevent the windows’ removal.”
Grainger urges council to protect the church by way of heritage designation, “with or without the new owner’s consent.”
And here comes that reminder of the city dropping the ball in the past.
Writes Grainger, “Please do not allow a ‘demolition by neglect’ after which adaptive reuse becomes unreasonable and expensive.
“The fiasco of Alma College should not be repeated.”

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The beautification of downtown St. Thomas continues one mural at a time. It began last summer with the unveiling of four boxcar murals on the tracks outside the Elgin County Railway Museum.
boxcar art 2jpgAt the end of the year, international muralist Kelsey Montague completed a St. Thomas-themed mural in her trademark ‘wings’ style which adorns the Canada Post building at 403 Talbot Street.
And, earlier this year Railway City Tourism launched it ‘Track to the Future’ mural project which recently was the beneficiary of funding from the estate of Donna Vera Evans Bushell.
A couple of murals are now in the works courtesy of muralist Mediah who is finishing a piece at CTP Computers at 707 Talbot Street and, with the assistance of a student artist, he will be creating a new mural at the Talbot Teen Centre.
Mediah, whose real name is Evond Blake, is internationally renowned and his work is described as, “Heavily inspired by avionics, mechanical engineering and schematics, the artwork glorifies and captures the essence of speed, motion, dynamism and force to create movement on the image surface.”
After that, Mediah will be creatively transforming a downtown alleyway.
And now, notes tourism manager Megan Pickersgill, two more locations are earmarked for future murals at 633 Talbot Street, with the theme of apothecary, and 803 Talbot Street with a designated theme of multicultural food.
Railway City Tourism is looking for expressions of interest to submit and create designs for these two murals.
Designs should be original and modern while also respecting the history of both buildings. Artists applying to this project are encouraged to consider the context of the local area and the city as a whole.
More information can be found at railwaycitytourism.com and the deadline for submissions is 4 p.m. next Wednesday, July 15.

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Still with the downtown, where do you park your vehicle along Talbot Street if you require handicap accessibility?
That consideration is also before council on Monday.
At a previous meeting, members had requested staff to undertake a study regarding accessible on-street parking in the downtown core.
Right now, there are 141 on-street parking spaces along Talbot Street, between William and Ross streets.
In a report to council, Matthew Vriens, manager of roads and transportation, makes the following suggestion, “match the existing parking lane width and provide a rear ramp access, usually on the layby taper to maximize available space.’
The photo illustrates this layout.
Talbot Street handicap parking

City staff recommends 12 locations along Talbot Street “for installation based on ease of access for accessible persons.”
These would be clearly marked and signed and governed through a city bylaw.
Talbot Street handicap parking locationsVriens advises, “On Talbot Street future reconstructions, similar accessible parking applications will be included in the design.”
The estimated cost of each space ranges from $1,600 to $4,000 with the full cost in the downtown core coming in at $31,200 and is not included in this year’s operating budget.


A contentious proposed development known as McGregor Farm Phase 2 is on Monday’s (July 13) council agenda.
The developer is seeking to amend the existing zoning to permit 73 single-detached dwellings and two high-density residential blocks with a maximum of 635 dwelling units.
McGregor FarmA public meeting was held on June 25 with a bevy of concerns raised by residents of Shaw Valley.
Two areas of consideration will be presented to council for consideration Monday: Is a peer review of the traffic study possible and are there implications for the housing market if the city exceeds its forecast for high-density development?

“Any potential issues and/or concerns with higher density residential development adjacent to low-density residential can be fully explored and addressed at the site plan approval stage.”

Jim McCoomb, manager of planning services, advises the peer review will cost approximately $10,000 and the developer is willing to assume that amount.
As to the housing forecast, the estimated cost to complete supplementary information is in the neighbourhood of $20,000 with the developer willing to contribute to the cost.
However, as McCoomb points out in his report, “that study has implications for all potential higher-density development in the city.”
He is recommending council direct staff to undertake the supplementary commentary on the housing forecast.
Interesting to note in his planning justification report to the city’s planning department, consultant Glenn Wellings observes, “The provision of higher density provides for an alternate and more affordable housing product that is presently lacking in the community.”
He continues, “Any potential issues and/or concerns with higher density residential development adjacent to low-density residential can be fully explored and addressed at the site plan approval stage.”
Hmmm, were we not just down this road with the development of the Alma College property?
It would seem Alma watchdog Dawn Doty and Sue Fortin-Smith, a registered professional planner, might prove a valuable resource for concerned Shaw Valley residents.

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One thought on “‘The fiasco of Alma College should not be repeated’

  1. As long as the current city council is in power, don’t expect any proper salvation for Trinity Anglican Church. Their actions regarding Alma College spoke loudly as to what they honour as heritage property. Not much. They had the OMB decision cancelled to create so called luxury block apartments. Alma College too was started in 1877. Since there will be no adequate recognition and salute to what was Alma’s architectural, cultural and historical heritage, would someone consider doing an authentic representational mural of Alma College on one of the building s of St. Thomas ?
    Lara Leitch, former Vice Principal, Alma College


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