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Committee approves plan to designate Lowertown church as heritage property despite objection from pastor

Église Évangélique Baptiste d'Ottawa on King Edward Avenue. (Google Street View) Église Évangélique Baptiste d'Ottawa on King Edward Avenue. (Google Street View)

The City of Ottawa's Built Heritage Committee has voted in favour of a plan to designate an early 20th century church on King Edward Avenue as a heritage property, despite objections from church leaders.

The French Baptist Church, Église Évangélique Baptiste d'Ottawa, in Lowertown was built in the early 1900s at the corner of King Edward Avenue and Clarence Street. It was built in the Late Gothic Revival Style and was designed by William James Abra of the Ottawa architectural firm of Richards and Abra, a firm that designed numerous churches in the city, a staff report says.

City staff recommended councillors designate the church as a heritage building, but representatives of the congregation disagreed.

Senior Pastor Guy Pierre-Canel says the congregation has been trying to sell the property to pay for a new building in Carlingwood, where the congregation intends to move. A heritage designation would prevent them from doing so, as it would deter prospective buyers, who would be forced to maintain the church.

"My concern here today is that if the city moves forward with this designation, our congregation is at risk of losing $2 million, which we're counting on to pay for our new building," said Pierre-Canel. "If the city makes it harder for us to sell the asset, then we're in a worse position. We're here to say to the city that this designation has a $2 million impact for us, which is unbearable. We're planning to sell this asset to purchase the next asset."

Associate pastor Gordon Belyea told committee in French that a heritage designation for the church would not be in their best interests, nor in the city's.

"We want to preserve our heritage, but it's not practical with this building," he said. "This building is at the end of its life."

He also described the way the Lowertown neighbourhood has changed over the years, from King Edward Avenue being transformed into a major urban traffic corridor to the rise in social issues in the area.

"These changes have destabilized the community. If this were the case 100 years ago, when Mr. McFaul (the church's first reverend) was looking to establish not a cultural establishment but a place to preach the word of Jesus Christ, he would never have chosen this location."

Pierre-Canel, speaking in English, said the church has been repeatedly vandalized, cars in the parking lot have been set on fire, and congregants have been assaulted.

"It's just a matter of time before something major happens," he said.

He added that the congregation cannot afford to maintain the building any longer.

"Our argument is quite simple. The city's strategy is well intentioned, but it's flawed because you cannot ask at the same time to designate, and on the other hand to ask and say, 'we designate and you maintain the building,''" he said. "Our operations costs on this building amount to about $100,000 a year. The roof is falling apart, there are only two parking spots, we have water infiltration in the basement, asbestos issues; it's no longer safe for our people to be there. If the city persists in this designation path, what will happen in the long run is we will not be in the position to maintain two buildings."

Pierre-Canel said the congregation has been trying to sell the property for several years, but the conditions in Lowertown are keeping prospective buyers away.

"The surroundings, the environment is such that nobody in their right mind would move a congregation to this area," he said.

Belyea agreed that there is some heritage value to keeping the facades on King Edward Avenue and Clarence Street, which could be maintained in a future development, but designating the entire building as needing to be maintained doesn't make sense.

Committee eventually carried the motion by a vote of 6 to 1, with only Rideau-Vanier Coun. Stéphanie Plante voting against it.

Committee chair Coun. Rawlson King said there are complex social elements that affect the neighbourhood, but committee is primarily dealing with the Ontario Heritage Act.

The report will rise to city council on April 3. Top Stories

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