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Town forging ahead with heritage designation process for Norval church, despite objection

Former Presbyterian church leadership urges council to leave the building alone
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Norval Presbyterian Church.

It’s been an emotional time for the former congregation of Norval Presbyterian Church since the local worship space closed its doors in February after serving the community for over a century.

Now, the church’s previous leadership is fighting a battle it may not have expected as it opposes the Town’s intentions to bestow a heritage designation on the building in the hamlet.

During Monday’s council meeting, the local politicians heard from Robert McClure, who spoke on behalf of the church’s former trustees, ordained elders, board of managers and congregation.

Collectively, he said they’re against the heritage designation for several reasons, including its potential impacts on the imminent sale and new ownership of the church, and the future cost of insurance on the building.

McClure also expressed concerns around how the local church representatives weren’t consulted about the potential impending designation at a time when they’re already going through “the difficult grieving process of our congregation’s dissolution after faithfully serving the Norval community for 185 years.”

A staff report to council indicates a letter was sent in February to the Presbyterian Church of Canada instead of the local leadership advising them of council’s direction to prioritize the building for heritage designation.

The report also notes the property was listed on the Town’s Heritage Register in 2011 and was identified as a good example of ornate Gothic Revival style church architecture, in addition to being associated with the religious history of Norval and with Lucy Maud Montgomery and Reverend Ewan MacDonald. (Listed properties are those that have potential cultural heritage value, but haven’t received formal heritage designation.)

McClure said the board of managers at the church objected to any designations at that time as well.

“The congregation has always managed stewardship of the property with the highest level of care,” he added. “There has never been a need to designate our property for fear of demolition in the case of neglect - that rings as true now as it did in 2011.”

But several councillors expressed concerns about what could happen to the church in the future, once it’s no longer in the hands of the Presbyterian community, with some worrying that a demolition permit could be issued if the building isn’t protected by a heritage designation.

“We don’t know what another owner might do,” said Councillor Clark Somerville. “It’s that unknown.”

While McClure indicated the interested buyers intend to maintain the church as a Christian worship space, and that the property can’t be redeveloped due to a lack of sewer service in Norval, it wasn’t enough to allay the councillors’ worries.

“This congregation has stewarded the property for over 180 years, and because of the sale, the Town is stepping in to ensure that stewardship continues for the next 185 years,” said Councillor Joseph Racinsky, who added it’s “regrettable” that there wasn’t better communication with the local church leadership about the potential designation.

Mayor Ann Lawlor echoed Racinsky’s sentiments and called the church “an anchor for the streetscape and village of Norval.”

The local politicians went on to vote in favour of stating council’s intention to designate the property - a motion that will be ratified at the next meeting on May 6.

Following that, there will be a 30-day objection period before a bylaw can be passed to formally designate the property.

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Melanie Hennessey

About the Author: Melanie Hennessey

Melanie Hennessey serves as the editor for HaltonHillsToday. She has lived in Halton Hills for almost two decades and has spent the past several years covering the community as a journalist.
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