The Building of Artaban Place
This photo was taken in 1990. From left to right, the old parish hall, our playground, the Sawatsky house and the church.
My story is not about my arrival at the Church of St. John the Evangelist. I can tell that in two sentences. I was fortunate to be born into this community and was raised here. I left to live in London and Burlington for four years, and then returned to Hamilton and St. John’s with my husband David.
No, my story is about a time when our church worked to build, welcome and support a new community – Artaban Place. This story actually goes back to 1985. Canon Ralph Price was our priest and had a reputation for building community by finding a project that the entire church could embrace. At our church, we decided to update and re-configure our parish hall, removing the stage, and creating a gym area, updating meeting areas and the kitchen.
John Lidgey, Dave McKay and Hal Devins were the coordinators of this project. John brought his skill and wisdom as a contractor. Dave was a church warden and took care of ordering all supplies for the work parties while Hal provided the volunteer manpower. Most of the labour was donated, cutting a potential $100,000 bill to $40,000. At vestry our parish voted to raise $15,000 in addition to our regular givings that year, and pledged to pay $5,000 off our $25,000 loan each year for the next five years. We held our first church-wide annual Bazaar where all of the proceeds were given for the Church’s use, as part of the fund-raising in 1985.
As a parish, we did everything that we pledged to do, making our final payment in January, 1990 – our Centennial Year. Our parish hall was being used for rentals in addition to our regular activities and special church dances, corporate breakfasts and volleyball nights.
And then it burned down in the early morning hours on February 10, 1990.
Through the parish hall project, our community had shown that we were capable of taking on a project and working in unity to its completion. Now was no exception! The Centennial Committee, led by Edna Russell, got busy and found other locations to celebrate our first 100 years. The Space Allocation committee, led by Jim Muirhead, got down to the business of prioritizing the parish needs and meeting them. We were so very thankful for the support we were given by Melrose United Church and Earl Kitchener School, providing space for our many programs. All Saints Anglican church also offered us the use of their hall for our 100th Anniversary Dinner and Dance. The crypt kitchen was created out of the Wardens’ office and we held a Bazaar in the crypt! Amid all of this activity, something unusual began to happen. John Lidgey, fueled by early encouragement from Peter Noel, began to show up at parishioners’ homes at all hours to discuss the possibility of building a subsidized housing unit. It would mean applying to the New Democrat Government for funds, giving up our own property and potential parking space, plus purchasing David and Allison Sawatsky’s house beside the church. We did all of these things with the support of most of our parishioners.
Just to give you a sense of the depth and breadth of this effort, I list the following committees:
Board of Directors: John Lidgey (chair) Shirley Bimson, Leslie Brown Muirhead, Jack Fair, David Holmes, Don Kaye, David Little, Thelma Maskell, Susan McKay, Edna Russell and David Shuttleworth.
Space Allocation: Jim Muirhead (chair), Shirley Bimson, Richard Gumbinger, Susan McKay, Amy Quinlan, Edna Russell, Henny Veltman.
Community Planning and Development Committee: Thelma Maskell (chair) Susanne Adams, Leslie Brown Muirhead, Roly Lee and Susan McKay. This committee did the research into the actual non-profit housing needs in this community.
Parish Hall Design Committee: Dave McKay (chair), Lionel Downes, Don Kaye, Pat Noel, and Gayle Shears
Finance Committee: Les Jarrett, Dave McKay, Carol Hardman and Jack Fair (treasurer of Board)
Communications: Hal Devins (chair), David Little, Shirley Bimson, Del Collyer, May Jarratt, Roger Munn, Sandie Shepherd and the rector, Mervyn Dunn, followed by David Sinclair
Buildings and Facilities: John Lidgey, Leslie Brown Muirhead, Richard Gumbinger, Peter Hill, David Holmes, Diana Holmes, Don Kaye, Roly Lee, Thelma Maskell, Edna Russell, Gordon Sampson
This is just a small indication of the number of people who were involved, in addition to those people who were leading the regular activities and business of the church.
Communication was essential for the successful completion of this project. Countless questionnaires were issued to get accurate feedback. There were many vestries and information meetings, all in the whole-hearted effort to communicate, communicate, communicate with the parish and the community.
We issued a monthly newsletter called The Hub (Holy Update Batman!) which was written by David Little for our parishioners and the broader community. Under Hal Devins’ leadership, many of us went door to door hand-delivering the newsletter and answering questions. We covered Charlton Avenue West (Kent to Dundurn), Chatham Street ( Locke to Dundurn). Herkimer Street (Locke to Dundurn), Reginald Street and Alexander Street. In addition to this door to door contact, David Little and I spoke to the local Home and School groups and other community groups to tell the story of Artaban the Fourth Wiseman, and to answer their questions. In spite of these efforts, our application to the city was challenged by a group from the neighbourhood and we were headed for an OMB hearing ( Ontario Municipal Board). We had spent so much time at City Hall to explain each aspect of our project, but to no avail. One of our aldermen felt that she had to support this group, so we lost one of our best advocates at City Hall. In preparation for the hearing, we encouraged all parishioners to attend to show broad support for the project, and we arranged to have as many speakers as possible.
Why was this hearing called? The community was afraid that we would be inviting undesirables into our midst – alcoholics and ne’er-do-wells who would be reeling down the street to the liquor store. They were afraid that the difficult parking situation on Charlton would be worsened, and wondered where all of the cars would be parked as there weren’t enough spots available for the units planned. They were afraid that they would lose the privacy in their backyards as residents would be overlooking them. They were afraid of this change in their community. “Not In My Backyard” had raised its ugly head. We were reminded that God did not say things would be easy.
We did carry the day, and were given permission to go ahead with our existing plans. The project took 4 years to finish from the time of the fire until opening day in May, 1994. It was not until we welcomed our first residents to Artaban Place that the community settled down. It was the residents who put an end to the fears, and our faith in answering God’s call was fully affirmed.
Submitted by Susan McKay