Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/6/2015 (736 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Baptist organization that owns an historic North End church has applied to city hall to remove its historical designation – the first step in what’s expected to be the sale and demolition of the 107-year-old St. Giles Church.
The Canadian Baptists of Western Canada (CBWC) have put the church, at Burrows and Charles, up for sale. A church spokesman said removing the building’s historical designation will make it easier to sell.
Mark Doerksen, regional minister with the CBWC, said a potential buyer has indicated they will demolish the stone-and-brick church (also known as the Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship church and the Heritage North End church) and replace it with a housing complex.
"We’re unclear as to what’s going to happen there but (a sale and demolition) that would be an option," Doersken said. "It would really be up to the new owners."
The building was originally constructed in 1908 by the city’s first Presbyterian congregation, later the congregation joined the United Church of Canada. A once-bustling church community, its membership declined and the UCC closed it in 1972 and sold it a year later to a Mennonite group. The Baptists have owned the church since 1997, as home for the Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship.
The church is listed on the city’s historical buildings inventory. All of its exterior and the sanctuary, including the organ, have a protected designation which prevents demolition and requires a special permit for any construction work on the heritage elements. In addition, the city placed a caveat on title, alerting prospective purchasers of the building’s heritage status.
The city’s historical buildings and resource committee will consider the de-listing at its meeting this afternoon, and will make a recommendation to the downtown development, heritage and riverbank committee.
An application filed by the Baptists with the civic committee states the church is in a bad state of repair, needing upgrades to the roof, windows, masonry and ceiling — estimated to cost about $1.9 million — and the property has an estimated value of $200,000.
The application states the sanctuary, which was built for 1,100 church-goers, has been unusable for four years; about 35 people used to attend church services on a weekly basis and the Fellowship — now down to eight members — can’t afford to carry out the repairs or to cover the insurance.
Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, said she was surprised the Baptists want to remove the church’s historical designation, adding it’s certain in that scenario the church will be demolished by new owners.
"I’ve seen this happen many times with commercial properties in the downtown," Tugwell said, adding she hasn’t spoken to the Baptists to learn why they want to sell the church.
Tugwell said building owners can’t be allowed to let a property deteriorate and then cry poverty to justify removing a heritage designation.
"What we have under those circumstances is demolition by neglect," Tugwell said.
Tugwell said if money is an issue, repairs can be phased in. She pointed to the conversion of the St. Matthews Anglican Church, which preserved the church building while constructing housing units inside, as a viable alternative.
"To leave a building for years in disrepair and justify a demolition because it’s falling apart — from my perspective, that makes no sense," Tugwell said. "You’re rewarding building owners for allowing their buildings to fall apart."
The city should demand the owners provide a report from a structural engineer on the church’s condition, Tugwell said, adding the Baptists should consider holding onto the property until a buyer emerges who is willing to save the building.
"Sometimes you have to wait patiently for somebody to come along who can do something with it — not turn it over to the first person who wants to buy it."
An administrative report states St. Giles church was built in a style known as Modern or Late Gothic Revival, designed by architect Charles S. (C. S.) Bridgman, who is credited with designing almost two dozen buildings in Winnipeg between 1903 and 1938.
Doerksen said the church has been vacant for the past month, as the Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship now meets elsewhere.
Doersken said the Baptists don’t plan to repair the church and hope to find a buyer.
"We’ve got it listed with a real estate agent," Doerksen said but would not say if the Baptists have received an offer — conditional on removal of the historic designation.
"There’s a lot of things in process and I’m not willing to comment on that at this point in time," Doerksen said.