It’s been an eventful first year for the Friends of St. Giles! Since early 2021, our volunteer-run organisation has advocated for green adaptive reuse of St. Giles, a beautiful church in Hamilton’s Gibson-St. Clair neighbourhood (Ward 3). And there are so many great reasons to do so! Adaptive reuse is a powerful tool for climate action; it would also preserve the precious architecture, history, shared space, and over a 100 years of community memories at St. Giles.
Here are just a few of the achievements that we’re proudest of from our first year.
Widespread public support
We continue to find it heartwarming and encouraging that thousands of people — from the neighbourhood, Hamilton, and beyond — support saving St. Giles. Our petition to save it has over 2,500 signatures on it and counting. Read just a few of the comments from supporters: you’ll see how meaningful this building is to so many.
Yet despite so much public support for saving the church — and it being twice recommended for designation — the vacant, pre-WW1 St. Giles still lacks heritage protections. Although owners New Vision United Church (Ward 2) withdrew their new demolition permit application in April, 2021, the fate of St. Giles remains uncertain.
Honouring our veterans at St. Giles
In November, the Friends laid a wreath at the St. Giles War Memorial Cairn for Remembrance Day. We are liaising with city staff and local veterans’ organisations about this 99-year old memorial to those lost in WW1. Among those commemorated by the cairn is St. Giles architect Lt.-Col. Stewart, who died in 1917 at Vimy Ridge.
Celebrating the beautiful legacy of Stewart & Witton
In December, as part of our sesquicentennial celebrations of Hamilton architects Stewart & Witton, who designed St. Giles, we shared a free self-guided walking tour of the Stadium District for Grey Cup Week.
All the works on the tour were designed in the 1910s by Stewart & Witton, who were both born 150 years ago in 1871. The tour received hundreds of downloads, and is now listed on the Tourism Hamilton website. You can check it out at https://stewartandwitton.ca/tours/ — it makes a great weekend trip!
Bumps in the road
The Lister Block. The Gore. Auchmar. Hamilton’s beautiful buildings are worth fighting for and keeping out of the landfill — especially in a climate emergency. St. Giles church is no different. We’re proud of all of the progress we’ve made in this community-led effort, but naturally there have also been challenges along the way.
Last April, after Ward 3 councillor Nrinder Nann opted not to support minimal, provisional heritage protections for St. Giles — or green reuse for the community — Hamilton City Council sent the question of protecting St. Giles back to Planning, pending consultation with community stakeholders. One outcome of Cllr. Nann’s decision not to support the motion to add St. Giles to the Register (which provides a 60-day pause on demolition), is that the Friends perform a daily check for demolition permits and closely monitor the vulnerable church property.
In June, the owners held a long-awaited info webinar, overseen by a Vancouver PR firm. There, demolition was still presented as their preferred option. The owners now refer to the property as 85 Holton, or “the Holton campus,” and take exception to using its name — even though the building is older than the United Church.
A virtual, mediated session between the Friends and the local United Church in June 2021 was unproductive. At that meeting, the regional United Church executive wouldn’t commit to seeing the process through before applying for yet another demolition permit. A second mediated session is postponed indefinitely. Despite this, we continue to be willing to work together with the owners to find solutions to save this architectural masterpiece. The last letter we received from the United Church Regional Council stated they haven’t made a decision about the building’s future — eight years on after the 2014 merger of St. Giles and Centenary. (The Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee created a helpful timeline: you can see it here.)
Gratitude, inspiration, and optimism
The community-led effort to #SaveStGiles has given us so many chances for meaningful connection. Everyone from architects to local businesses to arts organisations now contact us with inspiring examples of adaptive reuse of churches in their neighbourhoods — in Canada and globally. You can see a few here and here.
We’re grateful to the many organisations who’ve supported and amplified our work, including the Playhouse Cinema, Architectural Conservancy Ontario, the National Trust for Canada, and to publications like Spacing and CBC Arts who’ve spread the word. Thank you also to local media for following all the twists and turns in this story!
Finally, our heartfelt thanks to the thousands of people who’ve spoken up about saving this irreplaceable landmark. To quote just one of the many comments on our petition: “We need to preserve Hamilton’s architecture and history, buildings such as this one are what makes Hamilton such a special city. Instead of knocking it down let’s find solutions for how it can serve the community in a new way!”
What’s next for the Friends of St. Giles?
Right now, we’re preparing more walking tours for Doors Open Hamilton 2022 (Mother’s Day weekend). Stay tuned for exciting updates we’ll be sharing soon!
More on Stewart & Witton: https://stewartandwitton.ca/about-stewart-witton/
Download the map + more info on #StewartWitton150 celebrations: StewartandWitton.ca
Friends of St. Giles website: FriendsofStGiles.ca Twitter: @StGilesFriends