Special Report: Heritage

St. Giles Church Threatened With Demolition

New Vision Church want to demolish the historic church at Main and Holton, while City staff and the Municipal Heritage Committee recommend Heritage designation.

By Adrienne Havercroft
Published July 03, 2018

St. Giles Church, Main Street East and Holton Avenue South (RTH file photo)
St. Giles Church, Main Street East and Holton Avenue South (RTH file photo)

A sign went up last week on 85 Holton Avenue South, formerly known as St. Giles church. "100 years of History, contents of the church up for auction at TimewellAuctions.com."

There are 528 items listed there, including over 40 stained-glass windows, interior and exterior light fixtures and doors, as well as many other prominent architectural features.

For residents of Holton Avenue and surrounding areas, myself included, that banner was a jarring way to discover that this beautiful building, the gem of our neighbourbood, is being broken down and sold off piecemeal to the highest bidder right before our eyes.

Front door with auction banner (RTH file photo)
Front door with auction banner (RTH file photo)

Demolition Permit Application

New Vision Church, the owners of 85 Holton, applied for a demolition permit on April 17, 2018. Currently, the building is listed under the "Inventory of Building of Architectural and/or Historic Interest", but is not formally designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.

As a listed property, there is an automatic 60-day stay for demolition permits issued, which theoretically gives municipalities and the public an opportunity to seek a formal heritage designation for the building.

This process is currently underway for the building formerly known as St. Giles. At the June 21, 2018 Heritage Committee meeting, a City staff report (item 7.2 in the agenda) recommended the property for a heritage designation to the Heritage Committee.

The staff report argued that the the church meets eight of nine criteria for heritage designation under the Heritage Act. As a result, the Heritage committee unanimously voted to recommend designation.

Procedurally, this recommendation will be brought before the Planning Committee for review on their upcoming July 10, 2018 meeting. Should Planning agree with Heritage, it would then go to City council for ratification on July 13.

West transept and tower (RTH file photo)
West transept and tower (RTH file photo)

Heritage Designation a Political Process

Considering solely the merits of the building, securing a heritage designation for the building formerly known as St. Giles would seem like a slam dunk. But in fact, there are a few key reasons this application is unlikely to succeed.

This is because the current owners strongly desires demolition, and Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Green says he supports the will of New Vision Church. In my conversations with Councillor Green, he made it clear that his loyalty is to the community of New Vision, rather than the bricks and mortar that currently stand at 85 Holton Ave.

At the June 21 heritage meeting, several members of New Vision church attempted to dissuade the Heritage Committee from recommending the property for designation. They claimed that the building was in need of costly repairs and that the expenses associated with maintaining it are too burdensome for their congregation.

They also emphasized that their community's main priority was to preserve and renovate their current meeting place at 24 Main West.

According to the Heritage city staff member I spoke with, securing a heritage designation for a building where the owners oppose it is "rare" - and even more so when those owners are supported by the Ward councillor. And yet without it, the church formerly known as St. Giles will likely soon be history.

Furthermore, as a non-residential site, the property is not subject to demolition control, meaning that the owners do not have to have a plan for the future of the site in order for demolition to be granted.

This is significant because at this time, New Vision Church has no concrete plans for future of 85 Holton. No planning approvals have been sought or granted, and no architect or developers are currently involved with the project.

In theory, the building could be demolished and the lot could sit a vacant for years before anything new is built.

Side door (RTH file photo)
Side door (RTH file photo)

Heritage Designation Ensures Procedural Checks and Balances

A heritage designation does not, in and of itself, prevent a building from being altered or even demolished altogether. What it does is subject heritage buildings to a formal, third-party review process. Demolition or partial demolition permits may be granted to property owners should they successfully claim that they have no alternative (as is currently being claimed in this case).

The intention behind heritage designation is not to freeze a building in time, but to ensure there are procedural checks and balances in place to preserve its most significant features where possible.

For example, a partial demolition permit allows for certain parts of the building of be completely rebuilt and repurposed, while things like facades (or other elements with particular heritage value) are maintained.

These "adaptive reuse" projects are becoming a popular alternative to full demolition of historic sites, as they provide a means for older, decaying buildings to be retrofitted while still preserving their historic value to to the community.

While adaptive reuse projects for heritage buildings can be more costly than new builds, studies prove that the value they provide both to owners and the community provide a worthwhile return on investment.

I cannot speculate as to what the ultimate best use of 85 Holton Avenue might be, although there are many examples of adaptive re-use projects that have retrofitted similar buildings with great success.

The point is that there is much precedent for these projects, and many ways to repurpose older buildings so that their historical elements are preserved while also maintaining their functionality so that they can continue to benefit the community at large.

A heritage designation does not have to relegate older buildings to become nothing more than decaying relics of the past, but exists to ensure their stories and significance are preserved for future generations to enjoy.

My hope is that between today and July 13, Ward 3 residents, heritage advocates, and anyone who would likewise feel that the loss of this historic property would be a tremendous loss to our Hamilton community at large, to use whatever means they have at their disposal to advocate for its designation under the Ontario Heritage Act, before it's too late.

Adrienne Havercroft is a Ward 3 resident, HWDSB teacher, licensed Realtor, wife, and mother to two humans and two cats, taking time out of her busy schedule to be an actively engaged citizen.

27 Comments

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 12:50:30

In my conversations with Councillor Green, he made it clear that his loyalty is to the community of New Vision, rather than the bricks and mortar that currently stand at 85 Holton Ave.

Imagine that! Having loyalty to people and community rather than bricks and mortar.

New Vision seems to have got this strange idea from that weirdo Jesus guy. Jesus was such a loser that he did not seem to care at all for money or power or property or buildings or any of the things that money and power can build.

Not only did Jesus have his priorities all messed up by preferring people over property, he even preferred the wrong type of people. He did not sensibly curry favour with rich and powerful people. Oh no! He hung out with people who were poor or sick or (yikes!) members of hated ethnic minority groups. He even trashed his own reputation by helping prostitutes, instead of staying far, far away from THAT kind of person.

And what a horrible influence Jesus has had on people ever since. He told his followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit people who were sick or in prison... and they have been doing so ever since! Even those poor, misguided, deluded people at New Vision who have put their energy into all of those things instead of property.

Those Christians don't even try to keep their perverted beliefs a secret! Look at a bunch of them in this video. What disgusting, subversive words they are singing. Here is an extract:

Pride of man and earthly glory,
Sword and crown betray his trust.
What with care and toil he buildeth,
Tower and temple falls to dust.
But God's power, hour by hour,
Is my temple and my tower.

"Sword and crown"! Those people just disrespected both military AND political power. What's wrong with them!!

It is the fault of that Jesus guy! In his time and place, the most important heritage structure would have been the great Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. And yet he condemned it to destruction.

We've got to fight those nasty Christians! Let's start an organization to do so. We'll call it "Old Vision." St. Giles is open to the public for a final viewing from 3-6 PM today. Let's get together then to found Old Vision and fight against the perverted values of those Christians.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2018-07-03 12:58:21

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By Woods77 (registered) | Posted July 06, 2018 at 23:34:27 in reply to Comment 123194

The problem with Kevin's odd passive aggressive stance is that he misunderstands a lot. For one, he sets up a false dichotomy where it's either the people or the building. He is actually relying on a Kantian sacred/secular or Platonic dualism in his Christian worldview. Why hasn't New Vision exhausted all options to keep the building? Why haven't they accessed City funds? Why haven't they attempted to get creative in working with water developers? And, perhaps most importantly, why haven't they been open to those churches that have shown an interest in the building? The answer to that question is, in my view, largely because they are unwilling to sell for less than market value to a church when they believe that they could get more for the land. They have actively rejected some church interest, which would have continued the legacy of this site.

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By MikeyJ (registered) | Posted July 04, 2018 at 14:36:47 in reply to Comment 123194

Exactly, let us at New Vision destroy all the heritage buildings we want, without consulting anybody in the community, because Jesus.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 14:29:24

I'm not sure a Heritage designation is particularly appropriate for St. Giles's.

A reminder that these are the relevant criteria to assess:

(2) A property may be designated under section 29 of the Act [NOTE: this is the section under which a municipality can designate by bylaw) if it meets one or more of the following criteria for determining whether it is of cultural heritage value or interest:

  1. The property has design value or physical value because it,

i. is a rare, unique, representative or early example of a style, type, expression, material or construction method, ii. displays a high degree of craftsmanship or artistic merit, or iii. demonstrates a high degree of technical or scientific achievement.

  1. The property has historical value or associative value because it,

i. has direct associations with a theme, event, belief, person, activity, organization or institution that is significant to a community, ii. yields, or has the potential to yield, information that contributes to an understanding of a community or culture, or iii. demonstrates or reflects the work or ideas of an architect, artist, builder, designer or theorist who is significant to a community.

  1. The property has contextual value because it,

i. is important in defining, maintaining or supporting the character of an area, ii. is physically, functionally, visually or historically linked to its surroundings, or iii. is a landmark. (O. Reg. 9/06)

Taking each in turn:

  1. St. Giles is ultimately an ordinary Edwardian brick church (and not my cup of tea at all, but no worse for all that) and competently put together but by no means rare or outstanding.

  2. Like any building with 100 years of congregations, it has some historical value but ultimately it's not unlike other churches and the historical value is very much in the hands of the (now merged) congregation that occupies it.

  3. It's not a landmark, although it may be a highly local one to the St. Clair neighbourhood (I know lots of people who use De dwa da dehs nye>s but I don't get down there that often these days). It sure is... um... noticeable when you drive by it, it's noticeable as anything can be along that street. So the building is nice for a neighbourhood that doesn't have too much nice... but since it can't reasonably be used and occupied, it will quickly fall to ruin. It's very hard to have contextual value sufficient to ground a heritage designation anyway.

So I don't really see the argument for it. I could always be persuaded.

I'm more than a little disappointed (shocked, more like) that people would be so quick to invoke Jesus Christ in defence of what is nothing more or less than a real estate play, but you do you.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 04, 2018 at 11:15:55 in reply to Comment 123196

Rarity is not the criterion for heritage designation. If so, we would only be able to justify designating one example of each architectural tradition. Check out the staff report - they point out that the building meets eight of nine criteria for designation (a building only needs to meet at least one).

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 17:14:42 in reply to Comment 123196

I'm more than a little disappointed (shocked, more like) that people would be so quick to invoke Jesus Christ in defence of what is nothing more or less than a real estate play...

I agree 100%! I too am shocked that those Christians would try to drag Jesus into a real estate play. Don't they realize the true importance of real estate, money and property? How dare they disrespect these things by saying that Jesus is Lord over them!

And not just saying that Jesus is Lord over these things, but actually acting that out. Acting that out by sponsoring refugees! Or by feeding the hungry and homeless! Why, they are even standing up against hatred and violence!

Those Christians at New Vision are out of control. Just imagine how horrible it would be if their belief that people are more important than property were to start to spread!

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted July 12, 2018 at 08:10:39 in reply to Comment 123200

What was particularly funny about this is that I was agreeing with the Church and taking issue with the writer. But, indeed, you do you.

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By AlHuizenga (registered) | Posted July 04, 2018 at 14:11:15 in reply to Comment 123200

Thank goodness you're here to loudly protest against the demonizing of New Vision Church that absolutely no one is engaging in.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 15:10:05

But Adrienne thank you very much for writing this piece. I am sure it will help raise awareness locally about what is happening!

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By Big_D (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 17:30:52

Please leave the church alone, it is a beautiful 100 year old structure that should be maintained, if not as a church, at least retrofitted for some other purpose. The last thing the area needs is a gaping open lot in that area or an empty abandoned church like down the road at Main and Balsam.

I am thoroughly disappointed with Clr. Green if the comment he is accused of saying were true. How can you fight so hard for the Gore and King George school then turn a blind eye to this church? The church is equally as important and beautiful to the fabric of the community as is King George school is to Stipley and the Gore park wall is to downtown. This is eerily similar to former Clr. Horwath and her rushing to okay the demolition of the old Royal Bank headquarters on James Street; then turn around a say that the Gore buildings need to be saved to maintain the fabric of Gore Park? It's the same dam area!

Clr. Green, it may be time to move along. Your stand on issues can be extremely confusing, that is, you champion the Gore and King George buildings for their historical nature then say it's okay to tear down St. Giles church; you say that you are pro-LRT then make a short sighted decision on HSR which will be the main reason why Hamilton may never get an LRT. You are your own worst enemy.

You are very presentable, a smooth talker, a great debater, and have some really good ideas; but your ability to implement a vision and stay consistent is very lacking and Ward 3 deserves much better.

Comment edited by Big_D on 2018-07-03 17:31:47

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By kevinlove (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 18:12:47 in reply to Comment 123201

it is a beautiful 100 year old structure that should be maintained

Maintained by who? It has a long list of expensive problems. Mould, asbestos, lead paint, crumbling foundations, leaking roof, etc, etc.

The congregation has higher priorities (ie, people) for their funds. Precisely zero private sector companies have expressed an interest in converting it into anything.

Do you believe that the City should convert it into a community centre, as is being done for St. Mark's Church?

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By Big_D (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 18:45:52 in reply to Comment 123202

I guess you're right. The congregation has no responsibility to the immediate community and only to its members and their funds. So I agree with you, lets tear it down or abandon it then, let's not try to find a solution. As for all the other buildings in the lower city with mould, asbestos, lead paint, crumbling foundations, leaking roofs, etc. etc., while we're at it, let's tear them all down as well, it's too much trouble to maintain any of them. Let's just keep lower Hamilton as a network of one way highways with no old buildings because it's a nuisance to restore or maintain any of them.

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By kevinlove (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 19:17:37 in reply to Comment 123203

The congregation has no responsibility to the immediate community and only to its members and their funds.

One would think so. But here is the bizarre thing about those crazy out-of-control Christians at New Vision. They keep spending their money on other people! People who are refugees. Or people who are hungry or homeless. Or people who are the victims of hate or violence.

Just to show how really messed up those Christians have their priorities, one of their leaders even said, "The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members."

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By Big_D (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 19:34:15 in reply to Comment 123205

I don't know where you're going with your comments, so I'm going to have to say good night. Thanks.

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By Hamher (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 18:56:25

What disappoints me is how this has been handled so far by the church and Matthew Green. The congregation that is making the decision about St. Giles are not located in our community and they have not consulted any of us in the community as far as I know as to what we would like to see happen. Instead, last week we were greeted to a sign saying they were selling everything off that wasn't cemented to the building and now we learn the is plan is to demolish it. Furthermore, there is no plan as to what to do with the site after they tear it down.

I don't think the caring thing for the community is to tear this down and have the land sit vacant, fenced in and overgrown until the right buyer comes along. If they don't want to pay for the upkeep (which is completely understandable) I'm sure someone would buy it. Or, if it's not about making a profit, I'm sure they could come up with something creative with the city or a charity to make it a community space of some kind.

I don't think this issue has to be a for or against tearing the building down (and moralizing one side over the other is not helpful imo). I think the best method would be to have a kind dialogue in the community about what the space can be used for. If something can done to make it so the church be kept, great! It's a gorgeous piece of architecture with craftsmanship that can't be replicated and has a deep history with the community so we shouldn't rush to take it down and replace it with a building that won't last 70 years. If it's decided the land would be more useful if the church was demolished, it's sad but hopefully it's because something new and helpful to the community is being put in its place.

Either way, I hope this process starts to be more transparent and involves the community the church was built to care for in the first place.

Thanks to Adrienne for the good reporting.

Comment edited by Hamher on 2018-07-03 19:01:51

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By Big_D (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 19:34:37 in reply to Comment 123204

Well put.

Comment edited by Big_D on 2018-07-03 20:20:42

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By sminkster (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 20:38:51

Am I wrong in assuming that churches don't pay property tax? If that's true then it's pretty easy to see why any councilor would want this land to convert to something that actually benefits the city. Right now it's just an empty building with a lot of dog shit on the lawn. It could be put to better use.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 21:52:56

Well I have some questions; Why would a church buy a church to tear it down? Please don't tell me there is no profit motive here.

Why would a councillor support a demolition permit with no rebuild plan? An empty lot will not increase tax revenue until it is sold to taxable entity. I Await M. Green's answer .

As a ward 3 resident this is an absolute fall from grace for Mathew Green. I hope this becomes an election issue ( if he has the balls to run again). If he does he can use this slogan 'Ward 3 Parking lots are better than history'.

Make no mistake this land will be flipped f or profit. Gentrification led by a 'Church' supported by the 'left-wing hero'.

Wow ward 3 so needs a candidate Adrienne Havercroft please run!

Comment edited by rednic on 2018-07-03 21:54:50

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted July 04, 2018 at 07:27:32 in reply to Comment 123209

What other church is buying St. Giles? As far as I know zero other churches have shown any interest.

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By Woods77 (registered) | Posted July 06, 2018 at 23:37:20 in reply to Comment 123214

Wrong. There have been churches interested.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted July 07, 2018 at 21:07:50 in reply to Comment 123246

Source?

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By rednic (registered) | Posted July 04, 2018 at 07:44:11

@KevinLove Just too be clear? You are supporting the demolition of a building (historical or not) with no plan for redevelopment? Great city building plan! How is it someone destroys a church on James St and it is a scandal. Yet a couple of kilometers east the same proposal is great idea?

Comment edited by rednic on 2018-07-04 07:44:51

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted July 05, 2018 at 07:02:05 in reply to Comment 123215

I presume that you are referring to the demolition and "fascodomy" of St. James Baptist. Yes, weird things happened and the developer went bankrupt. I do not know if this involved financial malfeasance. Private companies do go bankrupt. Or is the "scandal" you refer to an assertion that more of the facade should have been preserved?

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By Hamher (registered) | Posted July 04, 2018 at 13:16:31 in reply to Comment 123215

New Vision Church actually did submit forms to demolish their current building a couple years ago on James. Since that didn't happen it looks like they're trying their hand at St. Giles.

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By Big_D (registered) | Posted July 04, 2018 at 16:29:48

Would be nice to see the church turned into a community space like St. Mark's downtown or Bellefair Kew Beach residence in the beaches of Toronto.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted July 05, 2018 at 07:14:56 in reply to Comment 123220

The problem with that is this was already done with St. Peter's Church just two blocks away. It being converted into HARRRP. Are you asserting that there is a need for additional community space that cannot be accommodated at HARRRP?

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By Big_D (registered) | Posted July 05, 2018 at 14:45:57 in reply to Comment 123223

How am I to respond to anything you write if you are only going to respond with some unrelated Jesus vs real estate comment? Or sarcastically talk about crazy Christian's? No one is even bringing this up but you? Can you have a conversation without doing that please? Thank you. And yes, there is always more room for community space as opposed to an empty lot.

Comment edited by Big_D on 2018-07-05 14:47:00

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