Montreal, the city of a thousand church steeples? In order not to lose this identity which is intrinsic to its history, at a time when most churches are emptying out for lack of a secure future, the Quebec Religious Heritage Council (CPRQ) has published six portraits of the sacred sites that have been converted. This is a way of encouraging transformative projects, which are dragging their feet in the metropolis.
“The studied projects took between eight and ten years to be implemented,” explained Denis Boucher, General Director. “Often, there are many pitfalls to overcome – technical and financial challenges. The subsidy programs are not especially suited to supporting community projects. Therefore, it is necessary to take advantage of [other] means to facilitate things. We have tried to highlight the advantages that churches can offer.”
The series of six notebooks contain plenty of examples of successful reuse (see below) and aims to better understand the stages of realization and the advantageous conditions of these steps, whether they are led by professionals, non-profit organizations or entrepreneurs. The exercise also allows the relevant authorities to become aware, so that they can encourage these projects and include them more rigorously in their urban plans.
Last year, CPRQ signaled the acceleration of the acquisition of churches by municipalities, especially the smallest ones (those with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants). It revealed that out of the 2,750 sacred sites that had been inventoried by Quebec, 312 were sold, shut down or converted. These numbers “changed every week,” emphasized Boucher, promising to review them from now until the end of the summer.
In Montreal, we can count 40 cases of transformation – after subtracting the 24 handovers to other religious denominations – which represents fewer than 8% of Montreal’s churches. “This percentage is 15% for the entirety of Quebec; the transformations are therefore happening more slowly in Montreal.”
One of the causes of the discrepancy is the moratorium imposed by the diocese of Montreal on the sale of its churches. This move has pulled the carpet from the under the feet of many community groups planning possible reuse.
Six Cases of Transformation
The Notre-Dame-du-Perpetuel-Secours Church became the Paradox Theatre, Monk Blvd., in the South-Western arrodissement. The nave serves as a multifunctional performance space with 850 seats, and as a school for introductory stage design, created for socially integrating young people, who are housed in the basement. The second phase of the project aimed to transform the presbytery, which was also part of the deal, into offices and social housing for young people.
The more modern architecture of the Saint-Bernard Church in Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve allowed for the installation of a sports and cultural center for Mont-Royal College, a unique academic use for a church in Montreal. The project included keeping the chapel as a place for socialization and spiritual activities for the neighboring populations. The project cost $2 million ($720,000 for the purchase.)
The repurposing of the old Sunday Church that forms a complex, together with the Wesley United Church at Notre-Dame-de-Grace, responds to the needs of numerous social organizations, among them two child care centers, the NDG Community Centre and the Christian Meditation Community. The revenue of the location also quintupled without sacrificing the original use of the Sunday church, and allowing the congregation to finance the restoration work for the church as such. The project cost $1.1 million.
The Saint-Eugene Church was literally grafted to the residential complex for seniors by the same name, financed by the Municipal Office of Housing of Montreal. It became the center, gathering the communal functions and shared services (dining room) in continuity with its first use. The project cost $14 million.
An unusual case, the Sanctuary of the Rosary and Saint-Jude, on the Rue Saint-Denis, became a therapeutic center and a private sports center. Its planning and architectural design allowed for maintaining a dialogue with the past of the site. The project cost $6 million.
The oldest case of transformation (1984), the Saint-Mathias-Apotre Church, made way for Chic Resto Pop, a well known organization for social integration and economics. Restaurant, office and communal kitchens were built, respecting the spirit of the old spiritual site. The project cost around $4 million.
The CPRQ points out that all the studied projects were well-received by society. The secret of this elevated social acceptability? The heritage sense of the promoters, the architectural quality, and the assured regulatory framework by the municipal authorities all certainly contributed to it.
Why are churches going out of fashion?
Original article, originally published in French, here.
Credits: Data and and images linked to sources.