Scarlett Road church is believed to be the only wood-framed church in Toronto
It took a lot of tireless work to keep the 120-year-old Toronto Bell Cote church building standing, and now the wooden-framed church is up for a heritage award.
Built in 1895, the building is believed to be the only wood-framed church in Toronto.
The Bell Cote, standing at 691 Scarlett Rd., near the Weston-Etobicoke border, has been nominated for the William Greer Architectural Conservation and Craftsmanship award at the Heritage Toronto Awards.
The Sukyo Mahikari Centre for Spiritual Development, which operates at the site, nominated the building for the award.
Subhas Mukhopadkyay, a member of Sukyo Mahikari and president of Toronto Bell Cote Heritage Preservation, said restoration of the building was painful.
“It was one of the most complex renovations one can think of. It looks simple, but it’s not. There was no foundation. When it was built, it was not built to any construction rules because it was done by amateurs initially. This was transported without any foundation, just a little concrete base.”
The church was built in Malton in Victorian Gothic Revival style, popular at the time. It was moved to its current Lawrence Avenue and Scarlett Road location in 1923. When Hurricane Hazel hit in 1954, it served as a rescue shelter in the community. A few years later, the congregation outgrew the church and moved to a new location.
The building fell into disrepair, with the main structure near collapse by the 2000s. The stained-glass window was broken into pieces, a Hurricane Hazel plaque had disappeared and the bell had been stolen, making for a bell cote without a bell.
In 2003, the church was designated as a heritage building by the city. Sukyo Mahikari Canada, a spiritual development organization, bought it in 2009. It created a separate heritage preservation organization in an effort to restore the building, and to maintain it.
Restoration began in 2012, ending in 2014, with financial assistance from the Toronto Heritage Grant Program.
The restoration required building a foundation, without moving the existing church, new steel framing and wood restoration. To restore wood, each piece had to be removed one by one, stripped, cleaned, and conditioned, Mukhopadkyay said. Much of the wood was rotten.
While the restoration work is mostly complete, for Mukhopadkyay, the work is just beginning. His intention is to make the building a museum to bring in visitors, to see its history and see artefacts.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done really,” he said.
The church, 1,400 square feet on the main floor and 1,700 square feet in the basement, is now accessible with the addition of an elevator and emergency exits, and it now has geothermal heating and cooling.
Other York-related nominees for the 2015 awards include the print article Before the Barns: The Edwards Family and Their Leather Factory by Stephanie Lever, published in The York Pioneer in April 2014 – the article explores the history of Artscape Wychwood Barns – in the short publication category; and, the website Back to the Park by Teresa Casas, which explores the history of the St. Clair West neighbourhood – in the media category.
Stacey Rodas, director of marketing for Heritage Toronto, said the awards are about recognizing contributions to Toronto’s heritage.
“We’re trying to change with the times, but the tenet remains the same. We always want to recognize outstanding contributions to Toronto’s heritage, whether that comes in the form of preserving a physical building, or writing a book, or doing a film,” she said.
The Heritage Toronto Awards and Kilbourn Lecture will be held Tuesday, Oct. 13 at Koerner Hall, The Royal Conservatory of Music, 273 Bloor St. W.
For tickets or more information, visit www.heritagetoronto.org