By Michael MacKinnon, Online Editor
Carleton University has taken a step towards purchasing Dominion-Chalmers United Church in downtown Ottawa as a community performance hub and rehearsal and showcase space for Carleton University’s music department.
This is an excellent opportunity for the university, the Centretown community, and all of Ottawa.
At a board of governors meeting in June, Carleton officials began discussing the possibility of purchasing of the century-old building at the corner of O’Connor and Cooper streets.
In August, the congregation’s negotiating team signed an Expression of Interest document with the university, giving Carleton 90 days to investigate the church and decide whether purchasing the property was feasible.
On Dec. 5, the university governors took another step toward purchasing the church as “a multi-purpose performance space for Carleton students and faculty, and as a new hub for artists and community groups,” the university said.
The church will be used by Carleton’s music department as a practice and performance space. The part of the negotiations that makes this deal a positive one for all sides is that the congregation will be able to rent of the space to worship, overcoming the financial challenge of maintaining the building while retaining their essential connection to the place.
There are precedents of churches in Ottawa being repurposed as dynamic urban spaces.
St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts is a stellar example of a church turned community-arts centre. Located in Lowertown along Cumberland and St. Patrick Street, St Brigid’s was once the pride of Ottawa’s Irish-Catholic population.
Over time, the congregation began to shrink, and church struggled with the financial burden of maintaining the building.
In 2008, the archdiocese deconsecrated the church — removing religious blessings and rendering it available for public use – and sold it, along with the rectory house, to private individuals.
Since its purchase in 2008, the church has given birth to individually unique spaces.
Brigid’s Well, named after St. Brigid’s Well in Ireland, is a fully functioning Irish pub. It’s a beautiful space, straight out of Dublin, frequented by locals from the Lowertown area.
St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts incorporates two major spaces in the church. The main floor which still contains the original pews, seating over 900. With a stage erected over where the choir would have sung, the vaulted ceilings offer a tremendous performance space.
Events such as Ottawa Chamberfest and the Ottawa International Animation Festival are held yearly. Most recently, St. Brigid’s hosted two performance nights during Juno Fest with acts like Canadian-throat singer Tanya Tagaq and Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo.
Located next door to the church is the rectory house. At one point in time, the building housed the priest and other members of the church. Now, the building acts as an artists’ co-operative. Artists rent out rooms for studio space, allowing them to work away from their homes in a creative environment.
Owner Patrick McDonald took a broken, decrepit church and turned it into a community hub in Lowertown.
Similarly, along Laurier Avenue, just past the University of Ottawa, another church has been converted to an events space.
In August 2014, the Anglican Diocese listed All Saints’ Anglican Church for sale. Much like St. Brigid’s, a number of local residents entered into a business partnership to transform the church into a multi-purpose event centre.
As places of worship, churches are where people come together as a community.
Deconsecrating St. Brigid’s and All Saints’ did not end the use of those churches as community hubs. In fact, the magnificent buildings have been revitalized.
Dominion-Chalmers has a unique opportunity to invigorate a beautiful performance space for this city, and the congregation that has been worshiping there will be able to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.