— Downtown Edmonton Community League Update —

Sharing a magnificent, historic structure

A call for proposals to transform McDougall United Church

Acrobats, jugglers, aerialists—not what you’d usually find inside a church. But that could change as churches across Canada adapt to handle the growing cost of maintaining older spaces and the loss of rental revenue due to COVID-19.

McDougall United Church, one of Downtown’s most beautiful historic buildings, is no exception. The church is actively seeking proposals for partnerships that could see the building become a community hub while continuing to host a sanctuary for worship.

It’s long been a dream of McDougall members to use the space for more than just Sunday services.

“Our congregation has had ideas and visions of doing something with the building since the 1970s,” said Larry Derkach, chair of the church council. “What we realized is that we have a really valuable resource in the building. It is already very well used as a concert venue, particularly for choral music, but it’s an enormous building to manage. It needs a lot of work to bring it up to code and to develop it in a way that makes it suitable.”

It’s what’s known as social purpose real estate—buildings such as churches, museums, hospitals, and schools that have enough room and resources to become a place for other community groups to gather. New tenants invigorate the space while also bringing in crucial revenue. Churches, in particular historic ones like McDougall United, require ongoing upkeep.

The 111-year-old brick church takes up one-third of a parcel of land measuring 3,274 square metres. The site, located on MacDonald Drive, also includes an annex, and a large parking lot, which the church shares with MacEwan University. Before COVID, the parking lot generated a large portion of the church’s revenue, and McDougall also rented out the venue for events.

But transforming the space is about more than just bringing in additional revenue. It’s also an opportunity to engage with the community. “This whole notion of developing the church in this way fits our philosophy or value system that the church is not meant to be a standalone. We belong as a partner in the community,” said Derkach.

“The church has always been recognized for its ability to gather people. It’s a magnificent structure. People are always thrilled to get a chance to look inside,” added Paul Conway, a member of the committee.

In order to make that transformation happen smoothly, McDougall is working with Trinity Centres Foundation (TCF), a Montreal- based secular charity that aims to assist 100 churches across Canada in transitioning their property into spaces that will benefit the surrounding communities. TCF estimates that one-third of Canada’s churches will close permanently in the next 10 years.

Derkach and Conway were inspired by TCF’s pilot project with St. Jax Church in Montreal. Now referred to as St. Jax Centre, the church has partnered with more than 50 organizations, including Cirque Le Monastare. The 30,000 square foot building’s high ceilings make it ideal for indoor circus performances.

Other possibilities for the McDougall space include an indoor trampoline park, a multi-faith venue or a performance space. The congregation remains a major stakeholder in what happens to the building, as is the United Church of Canada. The committee responsible for the church’s future is open to all ideas, meaning the sky’s the limit for what the building and land could become. “Yes, there are restrictions but it’s amazing how much flexibility there is. We are hoping that the historical aspect will be preserved,” said Derkach.

McDougall is actively seeking development partners and will be reviewing proposals at the end of September. Anyone interested in submitting a proposal can contact Steven Pearson at Remax or visit the McDougall Development Opportunity Listing here.