The outcome of the Wesley Mimico redevelopment story will depend upon negotiations related to the Ontario Heritage Act


A June 4, 2018 CBC article is entitled: “This pastor closed his church: Graham Singh is saving a Montreal church by first closing the doors, then opening them wider than ever.”



The outcome of the Wesley Mimico redevelopment story will depend upon negotiations and discussions related to the Ontario Heritage Act and associated land-use parameters including the Planning Act and Provincial Policy Statement.

That’s my reading of the story, which I’ve been following since February 2012.

The preservation, where possible, of the use of a heritage place of worship by a faith community is supported by provincial, national, and international heritage preservation guidelines

I will preface my remarks with a note that I think is relevant and important.

I wish to emphasize that the preservation of the use of heritage places of worship by faith communities, when that is feasible, is supported as a key principle by the Ontario Heritage Act, a federal Standards and Guidelines document, and the Burra Charter as outlined in the following posts:

The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada

Burra Charter offers a guideline for adaptive reuse of heritage buildings

The preferred use of a heritage place of worship is its original one, according to A Guide for Conserving Heritage Places of Worship in Ontario Communities

Historically significant places of worship are usually closely linked with their faith communities, according to the Ontario Heritage Act

Ontario’s heritage places of worship may be characterized as living cultural heritage resources

I would add that if a congregation wishes to remain involved with a heritage-listed or heritage-designated church by redeveloping the property, case studies indicate that it will be required to proceed in accordance with the Ontario Heritage Act and associated land-use regulations.

A developer is a developer whether it’s a private for-profit condo developer, a non-profit condo housing developer, a church or congregation acting as a developer, or any other developer.

How do you frame the discussion related to the Wesley Mimico redevelopment?

I am not a member of the congregation. I live in Long Branch not Mimico. I have an interest in heritage preservation. I support the interests of all stakeholders in the story although my knowledge of their views is restricted.

What we are dealing with, as I understand, is how we frame a discussion.

Heritage Preservation Services

My sense, from my reading of case studies, is that the preliminary comments from Heritage Preservation Services staff at the City of Toronto warrant close consideration.

My sense is that each of the concerns expressed to date by City of Toronto heritage staff requires a definitive and satisfactory response from the Wesley Mimico United Church congregation.

The property is listed and appears headed toward designation.

My sense, speaking as a non-expert familiar with the relevant literature and reports, is that in some cases the only response that would be acceptable to Heritage Preservation Services staff would be the modification of the current Wesley Mimico design proposal in consultation with the staff.

Land-use parameters

The Deer Park story underlines the fact that when a church property is designated, whoever the owner of the property may be, the policy parameters associated with the Ontario Heritage Act, the Planning Act, the Provincial Policy Statement, and associated land-use regulations guide the process whereby such a property is redeveloped.

In the case of Deer Park, proposals for the adaptive reuse of the heritage-designated church building were advanced following several meetings of a working group involving local residents and the developer.

In the end, however, the proposals did not move forward because they were not aligned, in the view of City of Toronto heritage preservation staff, with land-use regulations associated with designated buildings.

The outcome for the Bellefair United Church property turned out differently. The developer chose to retain parts of the historic structure, while making more extensive structural changes than would have been possible for a heritage-designated building.

The Bellefair building has a measure of heritage value. It was, however, seen as a common example of a particular style of architecture. For that reason, as I understand, it was not listed or designated.

Thus for the Bellefair redevelopment the land-use regulations associated with the Ontario Heritage Act did not apply. The building could have been demolished but the developer chose to incorporate much of the original facade in the adaptive reuse of the non-designated building.

The Bethel Green Seniors Residence, meanwhile, involved the demolition of the original Bethel Baptist Church followed by construction of a mixed-use church and seniors non-profit residential apartment building. Such a redevelopment was possible given that the original church was not listed or designated.

Flexibility exists

The land-use framework has a measure of flexibility as case studies of church conversions in Toronto illustrate. A list of the case studies that I’ve discussed to date at this website can be found here.

By way of example, case studies suggest that window openings in a heritage-designated church building can in some cases be modified to let in more light, and new entrances can be installed to allow easier access. As a rule, however, from what I can gather, prominently positioned steps leading up to entrances, even if the entrances are blocked off in redevelopment, are typically required to remain in place.

Similarly, a roof can typically be replaced, according to case studies, so long as the new one closely replicates the original. Dormers can in many cases be added to the roof and similar changes can be made in support of adaptive reuse.

In the event the Wesley Mimico roof must stay where it is, a potential option would entail an increase in the height of a proposed addition on the north side. Whether an increase in height at that location would be in accordance with applicable land-use regulations warrants investigation.

As well, it’s not unusual for a substantial new addition to be built on a church parking lot. The expectation, however, in accordance with heritage preservation guidelines, is that the new addition would be immediately distinguishable from the heritage-designated building.

When translucent additions – that is, additions featuring an attribute of transparency – are added to heritage buildings, such as at The Assembly Hall near the corner of Kipling Avenue and Lake Shore Blvd. West, the expectation, as I understand, is that if the addition were to be removed, the intact original facade of the building would be revealed.

An exception might involve a new entrance associated with a translucent addition. As noted above, in some cases new entrances have been added to heritage-designated buildings in support of adaptive reuse of the buildings.

An entrance at a point other than where the steps are located on the south side would, potentially, enable the provision of wheelchair accessibility, and visual interaction with the passersby, by means of the construction of a translucent addition on the south side or elsewhere. The original steps on the south side of the building under such an arrangement would remain where they are, and the entry that they lead to would be blocked off.

The translucent addition would, potentially, have design features – without the use of manufactured stone – similar to the translucent structure on the west side of The Assembly Hall. In that way, the design features would be immediately distinguishable from the heritage structure.

A concept has been advanced that structural changes can be made first, as proposed to date by the Wesley Mimico congregation, and that heritage designation can proceed after such changes have been completed. Such a concept does not accord, from what I’ve been able to gather, with the relevant land-use parameters that guide the redevelopment of heritage-listed properties in Toronto.


What I have described is based upon my sense of how best to frame the discussion in such a way that an outcome can be achieved that meets the key requirements of all stakeholders.


A Feb. 12, 2016 Tyee article is entitled: “Meet the Real Estate Duo Answering Vancouver Prayers: No, not housing prayers. These guys sell most of Metro Van’s churches.”


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