This distinctive structure with its impressive spire, known today as Sydenham Street United Church, is a landmark in the Kingston skyline. The building is an integral part of the streetscape as one of only two churches located within the recently designated Old Sydenham Ward Heritage Conservation District. It was opened in 1852, originally as a Wesleyan Methodist Cathedral, designed by the renowned architect William Coverdale, on land donated by then mayor, John Counter.
The structure is a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture, with its highly-decorated spire, intricate battlements and decorated mouldings inside and out. The church’s popularity and expanding congregational aspirations led to many renovations and expansions over the past 160 years. John Power & Sons performed the most significant renovation in 1887, creating the visually stunning sanctuary with its vaulted ceilings, fluted columns, capitals, corbels and wide sloped section that includes the curved balcony. This is the well preserved interior that is officially designated today.
The unique oval-shaped performance hall fosters greater intimacy that more traditional auditoriums and church seating plans are challenged to match. The Richardson Family provided for the present chancel décor including the installation of the Casavant organ in 1929. The two-story section to the back of the building provides considerable programming and office capacity. These support areas of the building were upgraded in 1961 with additional offices, meeting rooms, school rooms, kitchens and a chapel. This last renovation provided the capacity, which is now being actively repurposed, to meet diverse community needs with weekly traffic of 1000-1200 people. This well-maintained heritage asset makes it an important cultural, and even tourist, destination. Its beautiful, slender spire is conveniently seen from almost anywhere downtown.
Church buildings, by way of their designs and locations, were originally intended to operate as local ‘hubs’ optimally positioned in vibrant cores and surrounded by homes. For over 165 years, the structure at 82 Sydenham Street has contributed to local city life by providing a destination for community functions. Even as local needs and social economics have evolved, the congregation has sustained this building as a valued haven for cultural diversity.
Increasing community demand for space confirms that there is a strong unmet need for affordable and accessible places to work, rehearse, meet, create and perform. The building at 82 Sydenham Street, in addition to being the home for Sydenham Street United Church, is also the home to some 16 community groups including Cantabile Choirs of Kingston, Kingston Canadian Film Festival, Beyond Classrooms Kingston, which have permanent offices here. The Spire also provides: rehearsal space for Cantabile Choirs and Kingston Choral Society; meeting space for about six self-help groups including an Alcoholics Anonymous group active here since 1967. An average of 1000-1200 community members use The Spire most weeks of the year.
Due to the societal decline in church attendance being experienced by most mainline religious organizations, the building now has excess capacity, which has prompted an expanded focus to meet a wider range of community needs. It is clear that in the foreseeable future the congregation will not be able to maintain the fabric of this historic building on its own. Its function as a cultural hub will require broader community support such as this partnership of redevelopment that creating The Spire will provide.