An Ottawa pastor is warning that a heritage designation of his crumbling church would be financially devastating for his congregation.

City Council will decide on April 3 whether to declare the Église Évangélique Baptiste d’Ottawa a heritage building after the city’s Build Heritage Committee, in a 6-1 vote, recommended the designation despite objections from the church’s pastor.

The church, at 284 King Edward Ave., in Lower Town, was built in 1904 in late gothic revival style and was the first French Baptist Church in Ontario. According to Ashley Kotarba, heritage planner with the City of Ottawa, the building needs to be protected.

Designed by the celebrated Canadian architect William James Abra, the church represents the growth of Evangelicals in Ottawa. [Photo @ Teaghan Haysom]

“The church is important in maintaining the historic character of Lower Town, reflecting the neighbourhood’s eclectic mix of buildings dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries,” she told the heritage committee. The motion was supported by a city staff report.

But the church’s pastor argued against the heritage designation, saying it would make it impossible for them to maintain the property.

The church cannot afford to operate the building, Pastor Guy Pierre-Canel told the committee, adding that the roof is failing and that there is water damage and asbestos issues.

While the heritage designation would offer the church some additional funding, Pierre-Canal says he believes the building is too far gone.

He says that if the commission gave him an additional $25,000 a year, he “wouldn’t even know where to start.”

“I’d be hopeless,” he added.

Pierre-Canel says he believes the city’s intentions are coming from a good place, but that the system is flawed.

“People do need a place to worship. But it cannot be here [at this church] anymore,” he told the committee in French. “The building is at the end of its life. Shut the doors,” he added.

The pastor said crime in the area as a complicating factor. Pierre-Canel said the building is vandalized weekly, and that it is not in a safe environment.

“We’ve had cars burned, vandalized, people being assaulted including Reverend Belyea and two of our pastors.” Pierre-Canel was before the committee joined by Associate Pastor Gordan Belyea.

Pierre-Canel also told the committee that if the designation goes through, they are at risk of losing $2 million, which they were counting on to buy a new space, since the heritage designation severely limits what can be done with the building.

He urged the committee to “do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”

The church pastors say the building is not a safe space any more. [Photo @ Teaghan Haysom]

Development consultant Jane White Kirchmann supported the pastors, telling the committee that the area needs redevelopment.

“There’s a humanitarian crisis unfolding,” she said, referring to homelessness and mental-health issues in the area.

She said the church should be torn down and replaced with student housing, or affordable living.

“A [heritage] designation would create further stagnation.”

She urged the committee to complete a conceptual study of the area and find a better way to “pump blood flow” back into a downtown that “should be thriving.”

The Ottawa Baptist Evangelical Church is seen under construction in 1919. [Photo @ City of Ottawa]

Vice-chair and local Coun. Stéphanie Plante, who opposed the heritage designation, said the church and the area around King Edward need to be considered from a “360-degree view,” not just from the perspective of heritage.

But committee chair Coun. Rawlson King reminded members their job is not to consider the financial or social burden the congregation may face. Instead, they were to assess if the building meets the definition of a heritage building as classified under Section 4 of the Ontario Heritage Act.

While there was some consensus that the area around the church could benefit from redevelopment, most councillors thought the heritage designation would help rather than hinder redevelopment.