New Road Trip: Same Lesson

I was on the road again on Sunday May 7th with photographers Gordon Beck and John A. Chambers.. This time we headed from Brockville to Chaffey’s Locks and every place in between. Nine and a half hours in total. We saw all sorts of lovely new landscapes and it was a joy, and eminently educational, to view them through the eyes of these two talented photographers.

One of many spots that struck a chord was the former St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Delta. Built in 1811 as a Baptist church, it closed in 2012 and was deconsecrated. It is reputed to be one of the oldest surviving churches in Ontario. Recently a committee of 10 people was formed to rehabilitate the building and re-purpose it as a community center, which they hope to open this summer.

We were lucky enough to get a chance to talk with Chris, one of the committee who was busily working on removing old paint from the front door. She filled us in on some of the background and plans for the future. It is hoped to use the building for concerts, recital, readings and those types of cultural events. There is even a wedding planned for later this summer.

It wasn’t the only building we’ve discovered that is being re-purposed. Gordon discovered a barn in the eastern section of the County that is being re-imagined as an arts and cultural venue. On this trip we found a barn that is being restored by a woman from Toronto and it appears likely it will have a new purpose.

Sadly the timing is critical for such ventures. The Lyn Catholic Church seems a candidate for re-imagining, but it will need to be soon as the stained glass windows are broken and a flock of pigeons has been is residence for a while. Same goes for the Trinity Anglican Church in Brockville. The cost of rehabilitating older abandoned properties is prohibitive for any but those with the deepest pockets. 

Re-use, re-purpose, re-imagine. Sites with historical or cultural significance need a creative touch, and quickly, before they fall into unrecoverable disrepair.

Here in Brockville there was much excitement among the arts community when consultations were held about a possible new arts installation at the north end of the Brockville Tunnel redevelopment. My worry is that will draw away from the spaces we already have, many in churches, who use the revenue to make ends meet. The criticism of the older, existing spaces was that they didn’t meet all of the needs of various groups.

Arts and culture is part of the creative economy, emphasis on creative. Find creative ways to meet needs. Rent a space long term, in return for the owners using the part of the rent to improve the space. New, supposedly perfect spaces means older ones are neglected and will soon disappear. And that is a loss for all of us!

More pictures of the road trip, St. Paul’s Anglican and Lyn Catholic Church go to Brockville Engaged Facebook page or John A. Chamber’s Facebook page.