St. Michael’s Cathedral in downtown Toronto has been closed due to safety concerns. Construction renovations at the cathedral are cited for the closure. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Cathedral closed over safety concerns

By 
  • June 24, 2015

TORONTO - First construction stripped St. Michael’s Cathedral of its spiritual atmosphere, now it is blocking parishioners from entering the pews and sacred space.

The archdiocese on June 17 temporarily closed the cathedral due to safety concerns associated with the renovations that have been ongoing since 2011.

“There is very little spirituality left in the building,” said Fr. Michael Busch, rector of the Archdiocese of Toronto’s mother church.

“Little by little (parishioners) saw their church covered by scaffolding and tarps and statues being boxed up and moved out. It was very hard to maintain the spiritual atmosphere in the church, it is resting within the people, and it is their safety I am concerned about.”

Upon inspection of the cathedral’s 14 structural columns,“the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make” was made, said Busch.

“We found some of the mortar was deteriorating,” said Busch. “Some of the bricks had stress fractures in them and we wanted to address them.”

Marc Ferguson, vice president of pre-construction at Buttcon Ltd., the contractors overseeing the project, said during the summer, workers will focus on re-stabilization of the structure.

“Our mandate is to reinforce and consolidate theses columns and bring them back to where they should be to maintain the structural integrity,” he said.

Busch said this is the first time the cathedral has had to close its doors for more than a couple of days.

“The cathedral is 168 years old and I doubt if it has closed for more than a day-and-a-half in its entire history,” he said. “It has been opened 12 hours a day every day seven days a week.”

Although a temporary closure had been anticipated, it was not expected to occur until July.

“Really this isn’t a sudden thing, it is just a little earlier than we had thought,” said Busch.

Busch said the stabilization of the columns will not add unexpected delays or costs to the more than $100-million restoration.

“There may be some added scope to the refinishing of the pillars but all of this is already in our original budget,” said Busch.

During the disruption parishioners, about 5,000 who fill the pews each weekend, are being directed over to neighbouring parishes such as St. Paul’s Basilica on Power Street, St. Basil’s on the University of St. Michael’s College campus and St. Mary’s parish in the Bathurst and Adelaide area.

Although the closure will carry over into the new year, the city’s Catholics can expect Christmas celebrations at the cathedral. Daily Mass will also be celebrated at St. John’s Chapel, accessible via 200 Church St.

At the end of the day Busch said all of the hassle, hardship and disheartening decisions will be worth it when the restoration is completed, expected in 2018.

“It is going to be a much more beautiful cathedral,” he said. “People gravitate towards this building .... (and) people need visual things, they need beauty to understand (faith).”

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