Entrepreneur transforms Anglican church in Chapleau into community hub

As church congregations continue to dwindle across northern Ontario, the question of what to do with old church buildings is a growing concern.

Jason Rioux had left his hometown of Chapleau, before returning on a mission to save the old building

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      As church congregations continue to dwindle across northern Ontario, the question of what to do with old church buildings is a growing concern.

      Some get bought and repurposed into residential homes, while others are recreated as music halls.

      National Trust Canada, a national charity that works to save old buildings, estimates that 9,000 religious spaces in Canada will be shuttered, sold or demolished in the next decade. That's roughly one-third of all faith-owned buildings in the country.

      But there is hope for one such church in Chapleau.

      Entrepreneur Jason Rioux grew up in Chapleau and now lives in Toronto. He bought St. John's Anglican Church in Chapleau in 2016, and has helped to transform it into a community hub.

      "I wanted to see something positive happen in town," Rioux told CBC Up North. "I'm 40 years old now and I have been away from my hometown for a long time. I've been working away from the town now for 20 years, but I still go home. My parents still live there, my grandmother is there."

      "It seemed like every year another building was getting knocked down and people weren't trying to repurpose what was there, and some of the character that was in town was getting lost," he said.

      The hub now hosts a licensed restaurant in the lower level with a wood fired pizza oven, and has a shared-use space on the main floor with yoga lessons, fitness programs, children and youth programming, women's shelter meetings, and weekly movie nights.

      The church congregation continues to use the hub on Sundays and special events. 

      "It's been the one thing for a hundred years and never anything else," Rioux said. "So we're breaking the ice continually, kind of breaking the ice and we're involving the French community."

      "Our first tenant in the basement is running a cafe with a First Nations know, she wasn't even sure initially how comfortable she'd be running her small business inside this renovated space, in a church that was associated with the resident school programming and stuff."

      Listen to the full interview with Jason Rioux by clicking the audio link below.

      Shrinking congregations and rising maintenance costs are forcing old churches to be closed, sold or repurposed in northern Ontario. We chat with a former Chapleau resident about how he's helped give new life to the town's Anglican church. 6:16


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