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Some truth to rumours about sale of St. Aidan’s

St. Aidan’s Anglican Church is looking to sell its aging Memorial Hall and renovate the attached church on Queen Street East for its next 100 years.

The parish still needs a final go-ahead from the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, which actually owns the properties at Queen and Silver Birch Avenue, along with a city permit to sever the hall from the church itself. But after nearly five years of planning, St. Aidan’s Reverend Lucy Reid says this year will likely be the turning point in the church’s revitalization.

“It’s time for us to do it,” said Reid. “It’s like having a big old family house that you love, but you’re not a family of nine kids anymore.

“We need to downsize, and just be more responsible about it so that we can focus on our work, rather than being property managers.”

Beginning in tent churches, St. Aidan’s parish has gathered in the Beach since the late 1800s. The Gothic Revival church that now stands at the corner of Queen and Silver Birch was completed in 1910, while the Memorial Hall dates back to the 1920s.

Both are listed as heritage buildings by the City of Toronto.

Reid said the hall has long shown signs of “exhausted building syndrome,” with an uninsulated roof and single-pane windows that leak heat in winter. Meanwhile, the church also needs better insulation, as well as a new boiler, sound proofing, and an access ramp for wheelchairs.

“The crazy thing is, through the winter we have to heat the entire building even when it’s just myself and the parish secretary in during the day,” said Reid.

“And when a group comes in to use a small room in the evening it’s so hot we have to open the window, so we’re paying to heat the air surrounding the building.”

Besides its costly heating bills and a large carbon footprint, Reid said the hall is much larger than the parish needs. Older Beachers may remember the hall bustling with children’s programs, even tennis and basketball games, but Reid said those days came at a time when the parish was four to five times the size of its current 130 households.

“We’re flourishing, we’re looking at growing, and we have new families coming all the time,” she said.

“But we’re never going to be 500, 600 families. Society has changed so much.”

St. Aidan’s had an architect sketch concept drawings for the church upgrade. While the plans mostly centre on unseen system changes, they do include a wheelchair ramp and a more inviting vestibule outside.

The parish has also engaged a realtor, but Reid said the one-of-a-kind Memorial Hall, which would likely be retrofitted for apartments or condos, is hard to appraise. A market price will be needed before the parish has a good idea of its final renovations budget.

Reid said St. Aidan’s has learned a lot by watching Beach United Church handle a similar retrofit of its church on Wineva Avenue last year.

For two years, St. Aidan’s housed the new Beach United Church while its formerly separate Kew Beach and Bellefair United parishes sold their church on Queen to renovate their church on Wineva.

In that project, the large hall by what is now Beach United was actually demolished, but Reid said the church renovations were similar to what St. Aidan’s needs – more efficient heating, and a more flexible space for services and community events.

Designed by Scottish-born architect Andrew Sharp, who also worked on the former St. Clement’s Anglican Church in Leslieville, St. Aidan’s has been listed as a heritage property since 1987, and a site-specific bylaw requires that its six-metre setback from Queen Street be maintained.

City council voted in favour of Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon’s motion to give the building “designated” heritage status last May, although according to the city’s website, the designation has not yet been registered.

Reid said renovations will likely trigger the upgrade to designated status, which would mean no major, character-altering changes can be made to the church exterior.

“It’s a very significant building in the Beach community, and we want it to be designated,” Reid said.

“We want to do this in a sensitive way, because obviously this is a community that cares a lot about its buildings, and that includes our parishioners.”

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