SSUC & The Spire

Sydenham Street United Church at The Spire

The Spire – A Beacon Reimagined, A Congregation Renewed

Since 1852, the large Gothic-style building on Sydenham Street had comfortably met congregational needs and provided meeting space for self-help groups, rehearsal and performance space for local choral groups, and rooms for a variety of other not-for-profit programs. However, the ability of the congregation to support this impressive heritage building well into the future, had long been a concern and the church’s leaders recognized that a creative approach was necessary to sustain it in the long-term.

Around 2015, some congregation leaders envisioned a new model for the building’s operation and maintenance. They know that Sydenham Street United Church (SSUC) had long been a community hub and renamed the building The Spire, recognizing its prominent position as a city landmark and a familiar beacon for sailors long ago. A small group of activists created a new entity, called Friends of The Spire, with representatives from SSUC and the wider community. Friends of The Spire Inc. is a not-for-profit CRA-approved charitable organization, registered as an Ontario corporation.

A Memorandum of Understanding defines the relationship between Friends of The Spire Inc. and the SSUC Trustees in the management of The Spire. The objective is to make The Spire self-sustaining, with the ownership of the building remaining with SSUC, in trust as an United Church of Canada property. Friends of The Spire Inc. has an elected board which raises funds for The Spire and promotes use of the building for a variety of activities. Achieving the long-term sustainability of The Spire is the responsibility of the joint venture between the Friends of The Spire Inc. and the SSUC Trustees. The Trustees carry ultimate responsibility and liability for the building.

A Business Management Group (BMG), with a mix of SSUC and community members, manages the operation of The Spire. The building staff consists of an Operations Manager, a part-time Custodian, and a part-time Office Administrator. The operating budget and recommendations for capital expenditures fall under the BMG, with regular reporting to both the SSUC Executive Committee and the Friends of The Spire Board.

The vision of sharing church space with the community through expanded multi-purpose use has given new vitality to, and expanded the mission of, the Sydenham Street community of faith. Renovations in Spring/ Summer 2017 quadrupled the number of washroom spaces, installed an elevator and updated the interior spaces. More recently, the building entrance along William Street has been made barrier-free, and interior improvements continue. These renovations costing over $1,000,000 were funded through the generous donations by members of Sydenham Street United Church and the larger community, supplemented by special grants from private and public agencies. In 2019 and 2020, further renovations and upgrades continued, to remove barriers to access, improve security and increase user and tenant serviceability.

As churches face declining numbers and resultant reduced financial resources, The Spire represents a new mode of “being church”, by supporting the holistic health of a broader community and its members. This sentiment is shared by the wider community. In 2018, the Frontenac Heritage Foundation awarded a Certificate of Commendation to the Sydenham Street United Church Trustees and Certificates of Appreciation for Friends of the Spire, Architect Bruce Downey and the Anglin Group. In the same year, the Kingston Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) presented The Spire with a George Muirhead Award. In its press release, the BIA declared: “This building is being honoured for its adaptive reuse — its transformation into a bustling, vital community hub with activities in the arts, social justice and spirituality.”

Find the latest annual report from Friends of The Spire here.

Updated 2021 06 08