Deer Park Presbyterian – in pieces, without rest


I am not myself religious – but I know many sweet folks who are – and I also have a great fondness for the lovely structures which have been created by extraordinary sacrifices of patience and investment, by so many congregations. Toronto, as I have noted before, was known around the world in the 20s and 30s as “The city of churches” because we had so many different ethnic communities, each of which wanted their own appropriate (and appropriately beautiful) temple.

Architecturally – this remains a huge gift for our city – you can’t walk through any established residential neighbourhood, without coming across lovely old churches, block after block – but congregation-sizes have been in decline for quite some time – especially as formerly impoverished communities rise up the economic ladder and leave their original base, for a suburban mini-town on the outskirts. Some few conversions are tasteful and sensitive. But…

I had no warning about this one – and I admit, when I first saw it, a couple of weeks ago, while zipping-by on the St Clair streetcar, I exclaimed out loud in a perhaps-startling fashion – but only because I felt shocked and sickened – as if I’d been kicked in the gut. Of all the places they had to go after…

The Deer Park Presbyterian Church – born 1911, died 2017 – was not only a lovely and still resplendently humane building, on a midtown strip that is getting increasingly dense, glassy and impersonal, it was also the church of several local notables, including one of Catherine’s favourite living authors – John Irving.

Obviously, this was not enough to spare-it the depredations of the megabucks crowd (one does begin to wonder what exactly might though, doesn’t one?) and this particularly stark view made me wonder what demonic mechanisms were employed. Has some former weapons-designer come up with a church-saw or something? (and please can we get these people more arts-education, so they bloody-well stop it?).

There were of course (as there always are) some insights to be had. This is one of the clearest displays I’ve seen of boxing-out the buttress – that is, supporting the weight of the roof on tall walls (always the key structural problem for any building of such high-volume high-vaulting) done by means of an entire sub-building, one on either side, with a second set of columns to help keep the taller inner-columns from bowing outward disastrously.

The light-starved stained glass was sad, the totally obliterated one incomparably sadder, but these less ornate windows struck me as particularly touching – three blinded eyes that used to bring light from beyond to those sincere seekers of it, who can never again gather within, for illumination.

Nor will this modest door again admit the discreet penitent for needed counsel which they might otherwise wave-off, to spare pride and propriety.

Don’t have to be religious, to be sad about this.

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