Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Abandonment Issues: Mount St. Joseph Convent
According to the "History of the Sisters of St. Joseph" by Sister M. Ursula, Bishop R.A. O'Connor reached out to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto in 1889, in hopes of bringing a diocesan congregation to Peterborough "which would devote its energies to the educational and health needs of his huge diocese." At that time the "Peterborough diocese stretched from the shores of Lake Ontario northward, and westward beyond the western end of Lake Superior by a hundred miles or more - encompassing at least four present-day dioceses in northern and northwestern Ontario."
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peterborough was founded in 1890, as the daughter congregation to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto. Fourteen sisters from congregations in Cobourg, Port Arthur and Fort William (now Thunder Bay) signed a document volunteering to give themselves to this new congregation.
The task ahead was monumental.
"It had been arranged that they would take over the academy in Lindsay, and staff the newly opened St. Joseph's Hospital in Peterborough as well as the existing houses. To further complicate the task, the new hospital was to care not only for the sick, but also for forty of Peterborough's elderly poor who were at the time residents of the House of Providence in Toronto."
"They were truly God's afflicted, the blind, the lame, the epileptic, and the half-witted. No one but the Sisters who laboured in the hospital can realize the difficulty of caring for the sick, the poor, the aged and the orphaned under one roof in quarters both unsuitable and inadequate for these very different charities"
-Mother Vincent (One of the caregivers)
Acknowledging the enormous and seemingly insurmountable tasks the fourteen nuns in Peterborough were faced with, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto allowed 6 more sisters to voluntarily join the new congregation. In the first year, another fifteen new members would join as well.
In 1894, although impoverished, the congregation was flourishing and began teaching apostolate to the community. At this time a large plot of land was purchased on what was at that time the outskirts of Peterborough. The land and newly constructed convent was to be known as Mount St. Joseph.
Mt. St. Joseph Convent Postcard circa 1910 (Image c/o the Toronto Public Library)
The congregation continued to grow in the following years, and by 1901 consisted of 86 sisters. Throughout the 1900s the sisterhood also continued to grow and spread across Ontario, and then Canada, and then to other parts of the world, fulfilling their mission in hospitals, schools and orphanages.
In recent years, the religion industry has taken a nosedive. Congregations of almost every faith are dwindling and the Canadian landscape is now peppered with abandoned and re-purposed churches. The congregations of the Sisters of St. Joseph have also dwindled. But even as numbers decrease, convents are closed and well established institutions are handed over to governments and corporations, the sisters continue their mission both at home and abroad.
In 2009, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peterborough sold the majority of the land known as Mount St. Joseph, including the convent, which had been granted heritage status. They then constructed a new award winning environmentally friendly building on the remaining land.
The Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network has purchased the heritage building and plan to pass it over to The Mount Inc., who plan to convert it into the Mount Community Centre. The plan states that the newer portions of the building will be converted into 100 affordable and market-value apartments, as well as non-residential spaces for non-profit organizations and community groups.
During yesterday's walkabout on the property of this magnificent historic building, I was shut out. But I am very motivated to access and document its interior before any renovations get under way. This morning I am planning to return to the new adjacent convent and ask the sisters for permission.
I pray it works out.
Google Maps Screenshot
I really 'hope to God' that I will be delivering a follow up with interior images of Mount St. Joseph in the near future. But for now, that's all folks. Stay tuned.
********* ********* *********
October 6, 2013
I have been returning fairly regularly to assess the status of the old convent, but nothing ever seemed to change. Over the past few months, no work appeared to have gotten under way converting the southern portion of the building into condominiums, as had been reported by local news agencies.
Two days ago though, I came upon a very different scene: Police were training inside the building.
Yesterday Ninja and I returned to re-assess the situation. There was no sign of any police presence, so we walked the perimeter, as we have now done on countless occasions. As we concluded the lap, something awesome happened: a woman approached us and began waving us toward her. As we got closer she asked "Are you artists, are you here for the tour?"
A quick glance at each other and then a simultaneous response, "YES!"
The end, for now.
********* ********* *********
April 21, 2014
The long, cold and miserable winter is finally coming to an end, and it is not being kind to the old convent, which was in near pristine condition when we toured it last autumn. Despite the best efforts of the Mount volunteers to control the damage that the spring thaw is inflicting, Mother Nature is winning the battle by a long shot.
Two weeks ago, several areas of the building were flooded, and much to our dismay, the gorgeous original parquet flooring was buckling to such extremes that much of it will be beyond repair. Unfortunately, this was happening in most of the areas with parquet flooring, but the worst of it had ravaged and destroyed the floor of the beautiful cathedral and had also started to affect the base of some of the pews.
The volunteers monitoring the building were trying their best, but simply not well enough equipped to fight the plague of water that had besieged them. Many recurring visits confirmed this. They were opening and closing windows as dictated by the weather, and using buckets, pails and garbage cans to collect dripping and running water. But it was a long winter with a ton of snow and several Arctic cold snaps creating many layers of ice to form. It was just to much for the convent and the volunteers to keep up with.
The hospital addition which is the only area not designated with heritage status, and is planned to be converted into condos, well, that was flooded an inch or two deep on all three floors. Some of the historic areas also had many puddles here and there and seemingly everywhere, but not to the same extent as the hospital flooding.
In the basement, the water was sporadic, puddles here, flooding there, a backfiring sump pump blasting water like an open fire hydrant on a hot day in my childhood. Mother Nature still winning the war.
By last week, the damage had been done. The water had receded in the historic areas and only the hospital addition and basement were still flooded. But sadly, the parquet flooring was indeed buckled beyond salvation in the cathedral.
This week, not much has changed.
Hopefully with the thaw now complete there is a plan in place to tend to the deteriorating conditions immediately. It would be a shame to see this building deteriorate any further, and I am all to well aware of how quickly Mother Nature can inflict irreversible damage on a heritage building in such a vulnerable state, for example Sidbrook Hospital and the Prison For Women.
I've added some images merely to illustrate the flooding and water damage as described, but mainly tried to continue to focus on the beauty contained within this magnificent historic building.
The body of Christ
Confess your sins my child
H2 Uh Oh!
Parting the Red Sea
The plague of flooding
The light no longer shines
Turning water into wine
The devil leads you downwards
Locked out of heaven
Arches of darkness
Fake stained glass
Open and shut
Walk into the light
The hidden staircase
Nun shall pass
Catholic Book of Worship III
The sins of my father
Inevitably, more updates will follow as the story unfolds. Stay tuned.
********* ********* *********
April 23, 2014
I was truly concerned about the Mount, genuinely, I've seen beautiful buildings with heritage status decay beyond recognition due to neglect, and even shown examples above.
My heart was in the right place; I cared, that's why I wrote about the damage. My curiosity regarding the outcome of this building's fate seemed so monumental to me. I got personally invested.
My blogged worries made it into the local newspaper this morning, and I just learned this from the top brass of the Mount Committee inside The Mount Convent and they were none too pleased with "The guy with the blog."
In hindsight, before I wrote it up, I should have contacted Mount and given them the opportunity to speak for themselves, which they did quite eloquently today, in person, in the Mount Convent, albeit buried in a thick veil of frustration and disappointment aimed directly at me, ironically for my sins and trespasses.
They didn't quite accept my apology, understandably, as we are from two different worlds. But they were respectful, polite and willing to maintain an open dialogue with me. Going as far as to be not only open but optimistic about the possible opportunity of showing off the magnificently glorious building and the right way to salvage a heritage building in the 'Abandoned' documentary currently under production with award winning film maker David Ridgen, for which we recently won a BravoFactual grant to produce.
They assured me of the same things as stated in the Examiner article as well as expanding on other issues and things in the works. They were repeating themselves of course as only moments ago they hosted an event to announce the beginning of phase one of the development project. They informed me also that the parquet flooring does not have heritage status and was set to be replaced. They comforted me. They added that someone began working on the floors as of last night, which settled my worries even more. They explained the unfortunate events that led to the sump pump malfunction and most of all displayed their passion for the building, which seemed similar to mine. They may not see it, but I do.
They are really going to save her. I believe in them now.
I hope to one day live in the converted apartments and can't wait to see what Mount has in store. I'll be keeping a close eye on the building, but from here on in I'm doing it only with the permission of the Mount. I apologize again for my past trespasses. Here is to the future.
Go Mount Go!
It is an awesome project that you are undertaking and you should all be proud of your accomplishments.
I thank you, my readers thank you, Peterborough thanks you.
click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES