If only Quasimodo of Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame had an eye for design, his bell tower would have been a hot bachelor pad in the heart of Paris. Fast forward to 21st century Toronto and church conversions are the latest real estate craze and have been cropping up across this city for the past few years.
When done right these conversions make for a unique home for buyers, with period lighting fixtures, restored stained glass, vaulted ceilings and limestone and brick masonry not found in the conventional condo towers. So why are so many churches up for sale? Lack of financial support and declining membership are forcing some church leaders to combine parishes and sell off properties. In some cases these churches don’t survive. They’re demolished and replaced with townhomes or condo towers. But the lucky ones are designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and developers and architects are recognizing the importance of these buildings to the community and the potential to turn the churches into unique, livable spaces.
Here is a summary of some of my favourites. If you know of a church conversion that’s not listed here or if you live in one, feel free to comment below.
THE ABBEY LOFTS 384 Sunnyside Ave – This gorgeous 24-unit building dates back to 1910, when it was built to be the Howard Park Methodist church. Many lofts feature original stained glass windows or brick walls, while others highlight the building’s exposed wood and steel trusses. Many of these exquisite units offer a balcony, terrace, or outdoor patio. Located in a vibrant and trendy neighbourhood, Roncesvalles Avenue, or “Roncy,” as it is affectionately nicknamed by locals, with cafes, restaurants, bakeries and specialty shops. But if natural beauty is more to your taste than retail indulgence, High Park is only a few minutes stroll away. Abbey Lofts, a beautiful example of Toronto lofts in the heart of Roncesvalles, puts all of this and so much more at your fingertips.
GLEBE LOFTS 660 Pape Ave – This Riverdale 32-unit conversion by Bob Mitchell is a former 1912 Presbyterian church. It features an open-concept design revealing the original church structural trusses, features 14 ft vaulted ceilings, thermopane windows, underground parking and balcony. Built in 1912, the red brick structure fronts onto Pape but doesn’t get a lot of attention from those that pass by. It blends in well with the rest of the street, and many people aren’t even aware that it’s a residential building. It’s just steps from Danforth, with TTC right at the doorstep, numerous cafes, fitness centres and shopping.
THE CHURCH LOFTS 701 Dovercourt Rd – With stained-glass windows, original brick and steel trusses, cornice and vaulted ceilings, The Church Lofts at Dovercourt south of Bloor is a fine example of a classic, neo-gothic conversion of a century-old church into 28 loft units. The building is four-storeys and many of the units are multi-level with exceptionally high ceilings, where you’ve got a master level that overlooks the living space below. Circa 1906, this building has undergone indulgent restorations including masonry, limestone, wood doors, and period-inspired light fixtures. Take a short stroll to Dufferin Grove Park, meet a friend for coffee at one of the many independent local cafes or explore the family-owned shops that are the heart of this area known as Toronto’s “Little Portugal.” Everything from seventeen-foot soaring ceilings to organic apples are within your reach.
MACPHERSON CHURCH LOFTS 12 Macpherson Ave – This is the smallest church conversion in Toronto with only five units in the building converted in 2006. The church was first built in 1903 and named the Century Baptist Church by the congregation who, without the presence of a church, had been meeting in the basement of its members’ houses for nearly twenty years. A fire destroyed most of the church in the mid-1980′s and the property was sold to a developer. It took much longer than expected to complete the project, but with only five units in the building, each unit was of different size, layout, and had significantly different features and finishes. Walls are solid concrete, providing complete soundproofing, patios feature gas hookups, with luxuries such as heated walkways surrounding the building and direct access to the street and garage. Located on the the edge where Toronto’s Rosadale and Summerhill neighbourhoods meet, with tree-lined streets, gorgeous ravines yet easily accessible to Yonge Street, this sounds like the perfect spot to settle in. But don’t hold your breath as units in this building rarely go up for sale.
VICTORIA LOFTS 152 Annette St – This is one of the newest church conversions in the city and also the oldest church that has been converted into a condominium. Converted from a turn-of-the-century church into 38 gorgeous units, this building is beautiful, rooted in history, and ideally located. Boasting soaring ceilings and gorgeous architecture including a dramatic sloping roof, a copper-trimmed steeple, romanesque arches and curved brick columns, suites range from 600 to 1800 square feet over one or two storeys. Originally the West Toronto Presbyterian Church, this stunning building has been a vital part of the Junction neighbourhood since 1885, when it first opened its doors. Renamed the Victoria Presbyterian Church to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, this structure is one of several historic buildings in the area. Located near the West Toronto Rail Path, a multi-use 4km path that links several Toronto neighbourhoods, the Junction is well-connected and a haven for any one seeking to reduce their carbon-footprint. Spend an afternoon checking out the Junction Arts Festival, a neighbourhood display of music, dance and visual art, or take a fifteen-minute stroll south to High Park.