This metaphor is definitely in danger of being stretched too far, but I wrote about ghost signs a little while ago, and now I’d like to talk about something related, but significantly more noticeable: abandoned\former churches.
I live right across the street from the former St. Brigid’s Church, on St. Patrick Street (no, I’ve never quite figured out how that works, either). It was completed in 1890 to act as a new centre for Lowertown’s Irish Catholic population, and cuts an imposing figure on the street. I find it’s arguably a more impressive building than the nearby Notre Dame Catheral, and it tells an interesting story.
In May of 2006, the Archbishop of St. Brigid’s announced that the church would be closing. The parrish was shrinking, and hundreds of thousands of dollars would be needed to fix up the building; a dim-looking future, to be sure. The parrishoners fought to keep it open, holding fundraisers, circulating petitions and even going so far as to take the archbishop to court, but it was all for naught. The church hosted it’s final service in 2007, and in the fall of that year, it was purchased by a group of local Irish-Canadian investors and opened as an Arts and Humanities Centre.
It’s a facinating story, when you think about it. The building was the centre of a community for almost 120 years, and then it was forced to close for financial reasons. I don’t think anything speaks to the changing nature of a community quite so much as that. Churches, at one point, marked the focal point of a community—you only need to travel to nearly any older small town in Ontario or Quebec to figure that out, since somewhere near the middle of town, you’ll probably be able to find a church errected 15 or 20 years after the town was founded. Now, though, we live in a far more secular society, and though I think this is a good thing, it puts these stately old buildings in an awkward position when there are no longer enough church-goers to maintain the church.
St. Brigid’s, of course, got lucky. It lives on in a second life as an centre for the arts and Ottawa’s Irish-Canadian community. Sure, you could argue that means it’s essentially serving the same community as it did in the past, but really it marks a fundamental change in the neighborhood. The church has to appeal to as many members of the community as possible to survive, not just the Irish-Catholics, and increasingly small niche of the population.
Not all of these old churches are so lucky, though, such as this one, on Bronson:
Erskine Pebestrian Church, which I haven’t been able to find a thing about online, is apparently for sale. It’s an odd sight, a church with a giant for sale sign out front, and and even starker reminded than St. Brigid’s that neighborhoods are in a constant state of change. This one may not be as old or ornate, but it’s still a valuable part of the urban fabric. I hope it, too, someday manages to find a second life.