St. Giles Church at 85 Holton South in August 2021. Credit: Joey Coleman

The Friends of St. Giles, a group seeking to stop the demolition and redevelopment of the former St. Giles United Church building at 85 Holton Street South fronting on Main Street, says talks with the New Vision United Church congregation have failed.

“Our group was met with hostility and domineering behaviour from the United Church representatives who were present,” reads an unsigned letter from the group.

The Friends’ letter accuses the United Church of “harassing behaviour towards the Friends.”

New Vision United Church, which owns the building, says they are willing to resume facilitated conversations with the community. The Church says it is looking for a “win-win scenario.”

Members of the City of Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee state the Friends’ letter understates just how bad the relationship between heritage advocates and the Church presently is.

“It was just a real schlimazel,” says HMHC member Graham Carroll. “[The Friend’s] letter doesn’t actually represent very well how bad that meeting was. It was quite poorly set up and they didn’t answer any questions. They couldn’t even agree on what to call the place. It was unreal how bad it was.”

Carroll stated he attended the meeting in a personal capacity.

HMHC member Janice Brown attended the meeting as a member of the Hamilton chapter of the Architectural Conservancy Of Ontario.

Brown says the Church demanded people not publicly discuss the meeting. “I left the meeting because the folks of New Vision were basically advising us not to have any communication with anybody on the outside.”

“I think the whole meeting was really just a stalling tactic,” says HMHC member David Beland.

“There wasn’t really anything achieved at that meeting,” says Sarah Sheehan of the Friends of St. Giles.

“New Vision United Church continues to listen and engage with all community members in our shared desire to find a win-win scenario for the New Vision properties of 85 Holton Ave S and 24 Main Street,” wrote Rev. Ian Sloan in response to email questions from TPR after the HMHC meeting.

Sheehan asked the Heritage Committee to answer, “how staff can assist around the enforcement of property standards at St. Giles” and for assistance with “the possibility of outreach to the ward councillor to help us benefit from those municipal tools for protecting heritage assets.”

City Council will determine the future of the St. Giles Church in the coming months. In 2017, Council agreed to allow the site’s redevelopment in exchange for mixed-income housing and the revitalization of Centenary United Church on Main Street at MacNab Street.

The New Vision congregation says they are relying upon funds from the redevelopment of the St. Giles site to fund the future of the Centenary site.

Council approved the demolition of the church building, with then Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Green stating he supported the Church’s vision to redevelopment the site with mixed-income housing, including affordable units.

The Church did not redevelop within the time requirements of the 2018 demolition permit, causing it to lapse. In March 2021, the Church applied for a new permit and heritage advocates mobilized to save the building.

Current Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann is steadfast in supporting the Church’s project, repeatedly stating she supports ‘building affordable housing in the middle of a housing crisis.’

In April, Council voted against adding the building to the heritage registry. At the same time, Nann warned the Church that any attempt to demolish before community conversations are complete would result in immediate action to block demolition.

Both the Friends and Church say they are willing to meet again, they cannot agree on the conditions.

“We approached the June 25 meeting with Friends of St Giles with good intentions to enter into a solutions-based dialogue that is now needed. We were disappointed with the outcome. To that end, we agreed to a second meeting facilitated by Councillor Nann. However, Friends of St Giles chose not to attend. We respect their rights to advocate and share differing points of view and are ready and willing to continue a productive dialogue at any time,” wrote Rev. Sloan.

The future of the St. Giles Church building will return to City Council for debate this fall.