Carleton University eyeing purchase of historic Dominion-Chalmers United Church

Dominion-Chalmers United Church at the corner of O'Connor and Cooper streets. Photo: Alistair Steele / CBC

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

CBC News | Ottawa

Carleton University is entering into talks to purchase Ottawa's Dominion-Chalmers United Church, with plans to turn the historic downtown building into a performance space for students and faculty.

The university's board of governors has agreed to enter into negotiations to purchase the church on the corner of Cooper and O'Connor streets. The church has become a popular venue for concerts, events and festivals including Chamberfest and the Ottawa Jazz Festival, but has been in a dire financial situation for some time.

"The vision is this will be a downtown cultural hub that will be Carleton's extension into the community," said Alastair Summerlee, Carleton University's interim president and vice-chancellor.

A selling price for the building hasn't yet been agreed upon, though the building was appraised at between $7 million and $8 million, Summerlee said.

Congregation in decline

The church's congregation has declined sharply over the years, from about 2,000 in the 1960s to between 80 and 100 in 2016.

David Hayman, chair of the Dominion-Chalmers United Church council, said the church no longer has the financial ability to look after the heritage building.

"Right at the moment, a lot of our energy and resources are going after maintaining the building," Hayman said. "So with Carleton looking after the actual building itself, we can concentrate on doing more of what our core mission is."

Hayman said the church council had considered a number of options to make ends meet, including the redevelopment of the property, selling the building and moving altogether, or amalgamating with another congregation.

The Dominion-Chalmers United Church congregation will continue to use a small space in the building, the university said.

"Obviously we as a church wish we didn't have to do this, but I believe this is a very good solution to an existing problem," Hayman said.

Performances will continue

In addition to using the site as a performance space for students and faculty, Summerlee said the space may also be used for exhibitions and design competitions. There's also an opportunity to expand existing offerings such as kids' summer programs and the university's learning in retirement programs, he said.

The building will also likely continue to host festivals including the Ottawa International Writers Festival and Chamberfest, according to the university's statement.

"The main performance space itself is incredibly beautiful, the acoustics are remarkable," Summerlee said. "[It's] very different from the other halls that we have here in Ottawa."


Update: On Feb. 27, 2018 Ottawa's Planning Committee voted to allow the university to operate out of the church.


Join Heritage Ottawa at Dominion-Chalmers United Church on December 13, 2017 to celebrate the holiday season and the launch of our newest book! Click here for details.