Exploring The Knox Community Hub Option
Situated on the northwest corner of Ontario and Waterloo Streets in downtown Stratford, Knox Presbyterian Church has played a vital role in Stratford’s life since 1871. It has been much more than a place of worship, providing meeting space for community groups, being a venue for high-profile musical and theatre events, including Loreena McKennitt and the World Festival of Children’s Theatre. It also houses organizations that are integrated deeply into the social fabric of the community, such as Choices for Change, Girl Guides, Conestoga College Cooking School, Cancer Care’s wig service, The Alley Thrift Store, Stratford Summer Music, the Stratford Writers’ Festival, Alcoholics Anonymous, OneCare fitness classes for seniors, and community meals, to name but a few. It is also the site of fundraising activities for the Stratford Perth Museum and Shelterlink, among others. In 2017, 47 different community groups and not-for-profit initiatives relied on Knox! It is truly a vital community resource.
Knox commissioned a Building Assessment Report in 2017 which identified $1.6 million worth of unavoidable building repairs in the next five years. $300,000 of repairs have been done since then, leaving many more to do. Coupled with high maintenance costs is a dwindling congregation, numbering 475 in 1990, but only 200 currently. The Knox Church Task Force, a 10-member body, estimates that if nothing changes, the church could potentially last two more years, but no longer. It would become part of the one-third of Canadian churches which will disappear in the next 10 years, according to the National Trust of Canada and Faith and the Common Good.
The church’s location is a huge strength. Because it is an anchor on the north side of the main downtown, it can attract shoppers to that end, thus increasing foot traffic on the north side of Ontario Street. There is ample parking nearby as well as public transit. Its location also makes it a kind of gateway to Stratford’s park system, and the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre, which are both heavily used by tourists and residents. The building is also part of the Stratford’s Heritage District, coincidentally a designation not requested by the church when it was done in 1988. When any heritage issues are resolved, the congregation will be able to move forward with its plan to adaptively re-use the building and re-build itself anew, just as it did after a devastating fire in 1913, to serve the community in a fresh, new way, including the Knox Community Hub.
Kendra Fry, of Regeneration Works, a partnership of Faith and the Common Good and the National Trust for Canada, led an enthusiastic group from Knox and the SACC on the evening of May 24, 2019 in a workshop which explored the group’s shared values. As the SACC and Knox move forward together, it’s important that we establish common ground upon which to build. We did exactly that, through a potluck supper followed by exercises which asked hard questions and got surprising answers.