Lofty plans for Toronto church development


While many church congregations are shrinking or struggling financially, Weston Park Baptist Church is placing its faith in development plans that aim to revitalize its property in the west-end Toronto neighbourhood.

“Our vision formulated [in] 2005,” says church deacon John Frogley-Rawson. “It’s a nice piece of land, and we have developed [a plan] for the property and the community.”

The church has been located on a 1.1-acre (0.4-hectare) site in the Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue West area since 1907 and has occupied its current building since the late 1940s.

The congregation, the City of Toronto and the developer-partner will be meeting throughout 2021 to refine the vision. In March, they will be submitting an application to the city for rezoning, Mr. Frogley-Rawson says.

The church, which has a following of about 175 people, is working with Maple, Ont.-based developer Castlepoint Investments Inc. (Castlepoint Numa), to build a new church, likely elsewhere on the site, while retaining the existing sanctuary for other new uses, such as live performances.

The plan is to redevelop the rest of the site for community, retail and recreational use, with some mixed housing. The congregation is also eager to make sure there is space to continue running the Weston Area Emergency Support food bank, which was established 30 years ago and has been housed in the church for 25.

“The church sees an opportunity to replace its worship space and at the same time bring in revenues from renting space and also making the whole site open and available to community groups,” says Derek Ballantyne, chief executive officer of Encasa Financial Inc. Mr. Ballantyne spearheaded the redevelopment of Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood and has served as a consultant for the Weston project.

The church and developer are currently consulting on design ideas with nearby residents, businesses and the city, aiming for approval in 2022. They’re working with two Toronto architects: Drew Sinclair, founding partner and managing director of SvN Architects and Planners, and Ralph Giannone of Giannone Petricone Associates Inc. Once designs are settled, the plan is to be finished building within five years.

The ultimate goal is to keep the Baptist church a centrepiece in the development, while updating a property that has been at the centre of many changes in Weston Village. This project, expected to cost between $25-million and $30-million, is unusual in that it’s enhancing a religious building rather than getting rid of one.

In other cases, changing use for church property is typically driven by shrinking religious affiliation; in 2011, nearly a quarter of Canadians said they follow “no religion.” In 2019, the National Trust for Canada estimated that 9,000 church buildings across the country will be converted or redeveloped for other uses by the end of this decade.