Phase 2 of our community engagement work at 38 Walmer Road.
The Walmer Road Baptist Church has served as a welcoming, expansive place where diverse communities have connected since 1889. The striking landmark stands in the heart of the Annex, one of Toronto’s most dynamic and storied neighbourhoods.
Along with our partner, the Walmer Road Baptist Church, TAS has been working with a team of designers, heritage experts and planners to develop a bold new vision for this site that also celebrates the rich history of the church, and the Annex community. Over the course of 2 years, more than 300 local residents have participated.
Phase 1: Our Listen First Approach
At TAS, we take a ‘listen first” approach to community engagement. We started engaging with the community in 2020, with the commitment to learn and incorporate a diversity of perspectives into the design and programming of the site.
Last year, we challenged ourselves to come up with new ideas and activities, and to dig deeper and honour histories and peoples that predate the church. We hosted a multimedia art installation on site in partnership with Ophira Calof and their team, the ReelAbilities Film Festival and ArtworxTO. We also hosted three guided story tours that explored the site’s past and present and created a platform for dialogue about its future: one hosted by Ophira focused on accessibility; the second focused on Indigenous histories, experiences and Truth and Reconciliation hosted by First Story guides Trina Moyan and Jill Carter; and the last was hosted by the Walmer Church Congregation.
Watch the recap of that engagement work here: 2021 Walmer Road Baptist Church engagement
Phase 2: Testing and Implementing Through Engagement
In 2022, we began testing and implementing what we heard from the community. Our goal was to provide opportunities for people to gather and engage with each other – because that is how we envision the future of this site.
- The Bowery Project
The Urban Crate Farm, run by Bowery Project, included 500 crates of herbs, flowers and vegetables grown along the steps of the church. Bowery Project managed weekly programming and volunteers to care for the gardens and harvest the crops. The greens were collected by residents, as well as donated to the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto and Native Women’s Resource Centre.
- The Fall Festival
The Fall Festival brought together members of the community and the church congregation for food, music and activities. It was an opportunity to build on community-identified priorities like creating welcoming, vibrant public spaces, as well as TAS and our neighbours to get to know each other a bit better.
- Jon Blak: Sanctuary Doors
As part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, Wedge Curatorial Projects presented their inaugural public art installation on the sanctuary doors featuring photographs from Toronto-based photographer Jon Blak. His work redefines inclusive spaces to celebrate merging identities and styles that reflect the multiplicity of Toronto’s Black community. This installation reflects what we heard from the community about the need for diverse stories and perspectives to be represented on this site.
- Community Fridge
Community Fridges TOronto is a mutual aid project that provides 24/7 access to free food for community members facing food insecurity. This fridge was installed in early 2022.
Why do we do this?
At TAS, we understand that every neighbourhood is unique, and so how and what we design, program and build also needs to be different every time. That’s why we invest time listening, learning and exchanging ideas with the people who live, work or spend time in the neighbourhood.
These initiatives are as much about the projects as they are about the relations between people. Because when communities are empowered to shape their neighbourhood, and they have opportunities to engage with each other, it creates a unique sense of place.
Our engagement process is ongoing. We continue to look for meaningful ways to engage the community and honour the site’s Indigenous history.
TAS is excited to be part of the Annex. We hope that through our engagement work, we are able to create something truly unique that provides real value for the community.