Knox Presbyterian Church, a downtown Stratford anchor at the corner of Ontario and Waterloo streets, has a long association with the arts. Countless Canadian performers have taken the stage there, as have orchestras, choirs, theatre troupes, and even the occasional (and much-loved) pipe band. As the congregation has developed a new vision for its role in this historic building, the dream of a state-of-the-art performance space now seems closer to becoming a reality. The unique architectural features of Knox will make the renovated sanctuary a landmark for Stratford and a place to celebrate artistic excellence.
Over the past five years, and especially as the region looks forward to recovery after the pandemic, the SACC has continued to focus on the needs of community-based arts groups. Its top priority is the creation of a performing arts space that responds to solid evidence that local groups and individual artists require an affordable, state-of-the-art facility with stage and technical amenities that bring their art to life. The goal is to support Stratford’s arts groups so they can regain and expand their artistic presence in the region.
Through the work of the Knox Next Stage project, the SACC’s vision for the space, supported by Urbanistyc, has evolved and deepened. It now includes the following priorities:
Showcase local arts and culture: Programs in all artistic genres will bring artistic and economic activity to downtown Stratford on a year-round basis.
High-quality programming and performances: Stratford and regional audiences will enjoy a wide range of programming choices.
People-focused: The Knox space will provide a place for people from all demographic groups to gather in celebration of the arts and culture.
Community-building: As the region moves out of the pandemic, arts and cultural activities will be a catalyst to reinvigorate people’s lives.
Arts and culture incubator: Artistic risks can be taken. Ideas, interpretations and innovations can be tested at an affordable cost.
Destination landmark: By repurposing a well-known Stratford downtown landmark as a high-value destination, economic activity in surrounding businesses and the downtown core will be stimulated.
As Stratford’s downtown artistic home, the new performing arts space will be “the place to be” for the best community-based arts and culture experiences. Families will find a comfortable space for theatre, music, dance, puppetry....and much more. Couples and friends can enjoy a leisurely meal at one of Stratford’s excellent restaurants, then stroll to Knox to be entertained, enlightened, surprised, and challenged. People of all ages and abilities will enjoy an accessible space where audience amenities (such as accessible washroom facilities, air conditioning and heating) have been thoughtfully constructed.
Revisioning, repurposing and renovating the space will proceed in phases with a goal of commencing limited use by local groups before the end of 2022. Significant consultation with the new owner, the SACC, outside experts, and the Knox congregation is required. The issues of naming, day-to-day operations, and marketing are being studied. The SACC is also moving forward on funding, governance and charitable status.
As the Knox Next Stage project proceeds, the community’s views and input are always welcome. SACC is working hard to keep local elected officials, Stratford residents and arts organizations plugged in and engaged. Comments can be directed to email@example.com
Passersby may have noticed scaffolding going up at the front of the former Knox Presbyterian Church this week as the church’s new owner, BMI Group, began restoration work on the building’s large Ontario Street-facing stained-glass window.
On Tuesday, workers with Blair Britton, a heritage-restoration specialist and president of Mississauga’s Roof Tile Management Inc., began what will be a months-long process to remove badly obscured Plexiglas and metalworks from the window’s exterior, restore the stained glass window framework, clean the window inside and out, and install a new, high UV-rated glass protection that will not fog over time.
The work to restore the windows at what will be known as Copperlight – Stratford’s newest community and arts space – is expected to be completed by January.
Much of the initial work will involve repairing damage to the cement window frames from the metal bars that had been installed over the glass. Over time, the shifting of the old church building caused the metalwork to crack the framing.
“They’ll be taking off the two layers of storm-window protection that totally obscures the window from the outside, they’ll be removing all the metalwork on the outside that is not necessary and they’ll start repairing the cement (framing),” Copperlight general manager Leonard Stannard said Monday before the work began.
In a few spots, Stannard said the cement window frame has cracked and slightly separated. To address that damage, the workers will realign the framework, drill and fill holes with a special epoxy and thread a steel rod into them to bring the frame back in line and ensure it holds.
“I actually found something that referred to an engineer many, many years ago that looked at (those metal bars) and said that should not have been done because it weakened the structure as a whole,” Stannard said. “The church was rebuilt (after part of it burned down in 1913) and rededicated in 1915. When the steel bars went in the windows, I believe was in the 1970s. They thought they would need to stabilize it and add a covering to the window for storm protection, but they didn’t.”
An outer layer of thick Plexiglas was also later added to protect the windows from outside elements. However, because it wasn’t vented, moisture built up between the window and the Plexiglas over time, which ultimately became stained, obscuring the windows from the outside. The Plexiglas layer has also deteriorated over time to the point where a piece actually fell off.
“We’re (restoring) the largest window, the one with the most significant damage to it, first. … Really the point is to bring that visual back to the front of the church. … So not only is this (window) in the worst condition, the way that it was repaired is now a life-safety issue,” said Paul Veldman, the BMI Group managing partner who is spearheading restorations and renovations at Copperlight.
While the work will begin with the restoration the church’s largest stained-glass window, the team members will eventually take what they learn from that project and use the same process to restore Copperlight’s eight other stained-glass windows.
Veldman said the restoration of the first window is expected to cost in the area of several hundred thousand dollars, but he anticipates it to be the most costly of the windows he intends to restore.
“What we’re doing here is taking a first step (toward restoring) the first window of many, so we certainly hope that others in the community will join from a financial point of view,” said Veldman, noting that BMI and the Copperlight partners have plans to launch a fundraiser to help pay for the restorations, as well as some quality-of-life upgrades to the church that include electrical improvements, new heating and ventilation systems, kitchen upgrades and more.
“This is project of preservation and also of increased access to the building, so we’re always looking for folks who want to positively contribute and be part of that process,” Veldman said.