There are no gates at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in the Annex.
For years the church and its surrounding green space have been open to the entire Annex community for worship, reflection or just idle relaxation.
But all that was threatened when members of the parish noticed the bell tower was crumbling and in danger of falling.
“The mortar had come loose, the stone had softened … it was bad,” said parish council member Kevin Sylvester.
“There was some water leakage in the building, but we were more worried that if we didn’t get the work done soon, then the tower stones could come loose,” he said.
“It needed to be done and we couldn’t really wait.”
There was talk of razing the structure and building a new one, but the parish ultimately decided the current building, built in 1927, was worth preserving.
“It ended up being extremely important to us to save the church,” Sylvester said. “If we lost the church, we’d lose a part of the fabric of Old Toronto.”
Due to the urgency of the situation, the parish council borrowed money from the archdiocese of Toronto to start the repairs, which cost about $400,000.
So far, the capital campaign has raised about $100,000 to cover their debt.
They’re now asking the surrounding community for help.
Sylvester believes the church is worth saving because it’s more than just a house of worship.
“Not only do we do a food bank, masses and rent out the place for weddings and funerals, but people come by, eat their lunch in this green space and relax,” Sylvester said. “We really feel it’s part of the community fabric.”
He said the church has also made an effort to reach out to the community more, such as a recent outdoor showing of The Amazing Spiderman.
“We had like 200 people show up,” Sylvester said. “Some of them were parishioners, but a lot of them were people just walking by and wondering what the heck was going on.”
Apart from its role as a community hub, Sylvester said he also appreciates the church for its aesthetic value.
He points to the Bathurst subway station and a nearby doctor’s office as examples of what he perceives to be lackluster architecture on the strip.
“Bathurst is among the ugliest strips in Toronto,” he said. “If this were lost, we’d lose one of the most beautiful buildings on Bathurst.”
When it’s complete, Sylvester is hoping for a new and improved tower.
“There was previously a cross up top, but that was too dangerous to keep so we got rid of it,” he said. “So one of the things we’re hoping for when we finish this up is a new cross.”
The church will be holding a fall fair on Oct. 13 and 14, another way the church contributes to the “connective tissue” of the Annex, Sylvester said.
“The church can’t just worry about the people in the pews,” he said. “You’ve got to worry about them, but then you’ve got to open the doors and go outside.”
And the same goes for the surrounding community, in reverse.
“You don’t have to come kneel on the altar, but see that the work we do is part of the Annex.”
For more information on the capital campaign, visit www.stpeterstoronto.ca.