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Downtown church in its final days on Ross Street (8 photos)

With its distinctive blue stained-glass steeple overlooking Queen's Park, former Central United Church in its final stages of demolition

With its distinctive blue stained-glass steeple overlooking Queen's Park near downtown Barrie, the former Central United Church is in its final stages of demolition. 

The Ross Street church was built in 1957 and is located next door to the city's former hospital, which is now the seniors residence known as Victoria Village. 

Victoria Village purchased the church property in 2015 and demolition of the building began in April. 

"We're hoping it's going to be finished within the next couple of weeks," Victoria Village CEO Bill Krever told BarrieToday.

"There's really just one part of the church that's left now and that's the main chapel area. As they take it down, they're carting it away," he added. "So that's really the last piece to come down. After that, we'll be bringing in some fill and covering it over with a combination of parking and greenspace."

The demolition was slowed up somewhat because asbestos had to be properly removed from the site, which has been completed, Krever added. A few hundred bricks will be salvaged if people want them for keepsakes.

"There's also a stained-glass window in there we're taking extra care with," he said, noting Victoria Village is hoping to incorporate the large, decorative glass into future development. 

The church steeple is a little tricky when it comes to razing the building. 

"It's a slow and tedious process," Krever said of the demolition work. "We understand the feelings in the community, and it was really a landmark here for over 50 years. We certainly take very seriously our role as custodians of that history. We, of course, did the same thing when we took over the hospital, which is our main site here now.

"We appreciate the history and also look forward to the future that the site brings to us, as well," he added. 

The former Royal Victoria Hospital building closed in the mid-1990s, replaced by a state-of-the-art facility on Georgian Drive. 

It took a few years to receive the required approvals to turn the old hospital into a seniors complex. Victoria Village was rebuilt and completed in 2003. They have 128 long-term care beds and 70 life-lease suites as well as commercial space. 

"Most of that is based in the old hospital building, which was renovated and retrofitted for this (purpose)," Krever said. "Most of the walls here are actually the old hospital building."

Following the acquisition of the approximately one-acre church property, Victoria Village now owns 3.5 acres on the parcel of land between Ross and Wellington streets. The only property they don't own on the block is an apartment building near the corner of Sunnidale Road and Wellington. 

While Victoria Village does have long-term plans for the church site, nothing has been set in stone yet, Krever said. 

"It's all part of our master plan for redeveloping the site," he said. "At this point, our board is looking at the overall vision as to what it might be. Some of the ideas are rent-geared-to-income housing for all ages, more long-term care for seniors, retirement living for seniors, as well as commercial space. It'll be a combination, probably, of those things."

After more than 150 years in the city, Central United Church closed in 2017. BarrieToday recounted the church's long history and what led to the closure in a story at that time. 

In 2017, the church minister noted the building which is now being demolished had also sustained flooding due to a poor sewage connection. 

“The building was built in the 1950s when oil was cheap," minister Colin MacDonald said in 2017. "There’s no insulation. It’s beautiful but falling apart. It needs $1.5 to $2 million to be retrofitted.”

The congregation instead decided to sell the building and disband.

Although the Ross Street building was its final locale, Central United's previous locations on Dunlop Street West were hit by fire and flood over the years. The first building, constructed in 1865 by a group of pioneering Methodists, burned down in 1872.


Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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