Data from a national charity dedicated towards the preservation of heritage buildings indicated that over 9,000 old churches across Canada are set to be closed over the next decade, with the eventually deconsecrated land to be either sold or repurposed into apartment compounds.
National Trust for Canada regeneration project leader Robert Pajot stated that this ratio represents approximately one-third of all faith-based structures nationwide, starkly illustrating the looming clash between heritage and affordable housing.
“Neighbourhoods are going to have multiple churches closing,” Pajot told CBC News, adding that the loss of these shared locations that have fostered long-running traditions will be keenly felt by the affected communities.
“These places are more than just places of worship, they are landmarks in their communities,” Pajot explained. “It’s not just about the buildings. It really is beyond the impact of the loss of a heritage building in the community. The places of faith really have been, for generations, centres of so much of community life. They play a de facto community hub role, community service role.”
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Among the leading factors driving this development are shrinking congregations (mostly due to age or outward migration) and increasing maintenance costs, which smaller church memberships are finding themselves unable to shoulder.
A notable example is in eastern New Brunswick. The locale’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese has forecast that 20 of its 53 parishes will likely shut down if said congregations can’t ensure the long-term health of their coffers.
The 2018 report by the Diocese of St-Jérôme near Montreal also predicted that more than 30 of 54 Catholic churches in the region will probably close if they can’t find ways to raise more money.
The most troublesome cases were dramatically illustrated by Peterborough, ON, where the demolition of the badly-deteriorated, 160-year-old St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church made more sense than its preservation, which will involve ruinously large costs.
“The community tried, a sympathetic developer tried, but it was too far gone,” Pajot said. “People can accept that easier if it’s been an open conversation about the options, and the building can, if you want, die with dignity.”