Major donation aims to help save historic St. Giles Church for community use
March 21, 2022
Hamilton, ON — The Friends of St. Giles are excited and honoured to announce that a major donation has been committed to the cause of transforming the century-old St. Giles church into a community hub.
The donor, a Ward 3 resident who wishes to remain anonymous, is offering $400,000 towards adaptive reuse of the long-vacant heritage building, which stands at Main and Holton in the east-central Gibson-St. Clair neighbourhood (Hamilton’s Ward 3). The Friends of St. Giles are incredibly grateful to the anonymous donor for their generosity, community focus, and creative thinking. To respect the donor’s wishes, their lawyer has been the primary point of contact for correspondence about the donation.
“Places of worship are the original community spaces, and St. Giles is so meaningful to Hamiltonians, so it’s a natural fit. Imagine the possibilities at this beautiful building,” said Dr. Sarah Sheehan, a founding member of and spokesperson for the Friends of St. Giles.
“This donation shows that keeping St. Giles standing is not only possible, but members of the community are willing to donate to make it a reality. It’s also part of the bigger picture of historical investments the community has made in St. Giles through tax exemptions over the years. When you consider the owner’s two heritage properties, St. Giles and the Music Hall (former Centenary United), they represent about 270 years of cumulative community investment in these buildings.”
The Friends of St. Giles have long envisioned community space at a revitalized, restored St. Giles church, one that can serve and enhance this east-central neighbourhood through a mix of cultural and social resources. We are excited that the anonymous donor shares this vision.
Our community organization is also in the process of incorporating as a not-for-profit. One of our goals will be to build on this generous donation with additional fundraising, which would be earmarked for adaptive reuse of St. Giles for the community.
In Canada, the list of successful church-to-community space conversions is long and growing. It includes Anishnabeg Outreach and Indwell’s St. Mark’s Place in Kitchener, Winnipeg’s Augustine Centre, the Grimsby Benevolent Fund Wellness Hub, the Glebe Community Centre in Ottawa, Good Shepherd’s Jeanne Scott Parent & Child Resource Centre (Hamilton), and Harmony Centre Owen Sound — and the last 3 are all housed in former United Churches.
The donor approached the Friends of St. Giles’ Dr. Sheehan in early May of last year, a few weeks after Hamilton City Council voted to defer designation of St. Giles.
Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann has been aware of the donor’s offer since early June, 2021. The Friends informed Councillor Nann of the anonymous donation as soon as possible after receiving the good news.
St. Giles was designed in 1912 by the prestigious Hamilton architecture firm of Stewart & Witton, and has been part of the community for over 100 years. Despite over 2,500 signatures on a petition to save St. Giles — and being twice recommended for designation — the vacant, pre-WW1 St. Giles Church building still lacks heritage protections. Since early 2021, the Friends of St. Giles have been advocating in favour of green adaptive reuse, both as a powerful tool for climate action and to preserve the precious architecture, history, community memories, and shared space that St. Giles represents.
St. Giles facts:
- The original St. Giles building was designed in 1912 by Stewart & Witton, the Hamilton architects behind the James Street Armoury National Historic Site, Playhouse Cinema, Herkimer Apartments, and many other cherished landmarks.
- One of the city’s finest and most beloved buildings, St. Giles has twice been recommended for heritage designation.
- St. Giles is historically significant, as a WW1 church with close connections to the growth of Hamilton. Nomination is being explored for St. Giles as a National Historic Site of Canada.
- The histories of 85 Holton Ave. S. and the 1912–13 church building are inseparable: the congregation of St. Giles Presbyterian formed in 1908 on land granted by the Holton family for the purpose of building a church. St. Giles joined the United Church of Canada over a decade later, in 1925.
- The ACO flagged St. Giles as a Building At Risk in early 2021. The church building is also nominated to the National Trust for Canada Endangered List.
- St. Giles remains at risk of demolition by owner New Vision United Church, which acquired the St. Giles property (approx. 1 acre) through a merger in 2014 between St. Giles and Centenary. This vulnerable, historic landmark is also at ongoing risk of demolition by neglect.
- Tax exemptions for the owner’s two heritage properties, St. Giles and the Music Hall / former Centenary Methodist, represent approximately 270 years of cumulative community investment in these buildings.
Based in Hamilton’s Ward 3, the Friends of St. Giles are a group of neighbours and residents leading the community-based effort to save Stewart & Witton’s masterpiece, St. Giles Church.