Joint statement by ACO Hamilton and the Friends of St. Giles, June 17, 2021
We need a fourth option for St. Giles
Heritage advocates respond to latest proposals for century-old Gibson landmark
Last week was Hamilton Arts Week — which made it doubly disappointing that the week ended with New Vision United Church claiming the right to destroy our city’s finest architecture.
As directed by Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann and Hamilton City Council, United Property Resource Corporation (UPRC) hosted two Zoom webinars to present new proposals for the St. Giles site at 85 Holton Ave. S. On behalf of the property owners, New Vision United Church and the Horseshoe Falls Regional Council, UPRC CEO Tim Blair presented three options for redeveloping the church site. St. Giles is part of the east-central Gibson neighbourhood, just blocks from the St. Clair Heritage Conservation District.
Disappointingly, UPRC’s new options continue to pit housing against heritage, ward against ward, and the wishes of a small downtown congregation against those of cultural advocates, the neighbourhood, and the thousands of people who signed the petition to save St. Giles.
Further, by opting for the Zoom webinar format, UPRC made truly open, accessible engagement impossible. Attendees’ cameras and mics were turned off throughout, and written questions were vetted and edited by the Vancouver-based PR firm that moderated both sessions. Without disclosing their affiliation, representatives of the client — including New Vision congregants and the Church Council Chair — took up valuable time during the Q&A away from members of the public and local organizations. Faced with a question about fundraising for St. Giles, CEO Blair instead promoted fundraising for New Vision’s heritage-designated home church in Ward 2.
Demolishing one church is a strange and troubling way to fund another. Despite the owners’ insistence on using the St. Giles property as a source of revenue, Blair conceded that the proposed redevelopment on Holton would in fact provide minimal revenue, and would be overseen by a third-party property management company.
ACO Hamilton and the Friends of St. Giles remain deeply concerned for the fate of historic St. Giles Church and the owners’ continued demolition by neglect. The owners, including Horseshoe Falls Regional Council, should not ignore strong community opposition to demolition and support for adaptive reuse. Just as embodied energy resides in the stones of the Music Hall, a.k.a. the former Centenary Methodist, so does it in St. Giles Church, Stewart & Witton’s masterpiece on Holton.
The goals of climate justice and social justice are not at odds. We can no longer ignore the crucial links between environmental conservation and architectural conservation. As ACO Hamilton President Shannon Kyles writes, “Destroying St. Giles is not ‘sustainability.’ The greenest building is the one that is already there. Many far less worthy buildings have been the lucky beneficiaries of adaptive reuse.”
Is it UPRC’s policy to demolish churches that lack heritage protections? As just one example, UPRC also plans to demolish Westdale’s Binkley United.
ACO Hamilton and the Friends of St. Giles encourage those who participate in UPRC’s feedback surveys to copy Coun. Nrinder Nann and Executive Minister Cheryl-Ann Stadelbauer-Sampa with their comments via email.
Destroying history and culture is not the way forward. We call on the developer and owners to respect the local community and Hamilton’s rich history, and keep St. Giles standing. There are better, greener solutions, and better ways forward. Any new development at 85 Holton Ave. must respect local history and culture by preserving and adaptively reusing the original 1912 St. Giles church building as part of its plan.
St. Giles facts
- The congregation of St. Giles Presbyterian formed in 1908 on land granted by the Holtons for the purpose of building a church — the histories of 85 Holton Ave and of the 1912 church building are inseparable
- Designed in 1912 by Hamilton firm Stewart & Witton
- St. Giles is historically significant, as a WW1 church with close connections to the growth of Hamilton
- One of the city’s architecturally finest buildings, St. Giles has been twice recommended for heritage designation
- St. Giles was built using the finest materials and craftsmanship; by one estimate, it would cost $60 million to build new today
- There are now thousands of signatures on the petition to save St. Giles from demolition, with heartfelt comments about the deep significance of this building to Hamiltonians
- The ACO flagged St. Giles as a Building At Risk in early 2021
- St. Giles is nominated to the 2021 National Trust for Canada Endangered List
- Nomination is being explored for St. Giles as a National Historic Site of Canada
Founded in 1933, the Architectural Conservancy Ontario has helped save hundreds of buildings all across Ontario, and raised awareness of the importance of preserving Ontario’s provincial, municipal, and community heritage. Based in Hamilton’s Ward 3, the Friends of St. Giles are a local advocacy group currently exploring incorporation as a non-profit.