Iconic Toronto church shutters doors due to safety concerns

St. Michael's Cathedral is shutting its doors until September 2016 due to structural issues. Sean O'Shea/Global News

TORONTO — One of Toronto’s oldest churches is closing its doors for the first time in its more than 150 year history, due to safety concerns that arose from an extensive renovation project.

The 168-year-old St. Michael’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Toronto located at 200 Church St., has been forced to close on Wednesday despite efforts to push back the date due to structural hazards with support columns.

“It was very hard to maintain a spiritual atmosphere in the church and yet amazingly we had packed houses every weekend. It draws people no matter what, it speaks about the history of this place,” said Father Michael Busch, the rector of the cathedral.

“I’m very disappointed as well, this is the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make. The church is 168 years old. I don’t think it’s closed for more than a day-and-a-half and in its entire history it has been open 12 hours a day, every day, seven days a week.”

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Work has been underway for the past three years to restore the church, a landmark and home parish of the Cardinal Thomas Collins.

Until Wednesday, the cathedral had remained open for weekend services and celebrations, but the next phase of the restorations requires a full-time closure.

“We have been doing some rather extensive work inside, we had planned to shut down at some point, but because that work had advanced to such a state, I was beginning to be concerned about the safety of our people,” Busch said.

“So after last week, looking at some of the safety issues, some of the extensive investigative things on our columns that we have found in consultation with the engineer, I decided that we would close earlier than normal.”

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Marc Ferguson, Vice President of Preconstruction at Buttcon Ltd., said the renovations will mostly focus on the re-stabilization of support columns, because the mortar keeping them together had started to fail, which posed serious safety risks.

“We came to the conclusion that rather than waiting another couple of weeks to close as per our original schedule, we decided to push that date up because of what we’re finding on the columns right now,” he said.

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“There’s always surprises when you’re dealing with a building of this historic nature, there’s only so much investigative work you can do upfront. The building ultimately is going to tell you what it needs as you get into the construction.”

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Ferguson said the church officials have been extremely supportive of the need to close earlier than expected and the hope is that the cathedral will briefly reopen around Christmas, before being closed again until Easter, with a goal of finishing the restoration on Sept. 29, 2016.

Daily Mass will continue to be celebrated in St. John’s Chapel, a small worship space at 200 Church St., while nearby St. Paul’s Basilica will provide additional weekend Masses beginning in July to accommodate the cathedral closure.

For more information and updates on the renovation project, supporters are asked to visit the church’s website.

*With files from Sean O’Shea

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