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31 July 2019

New Religious Archives Project in Kingston

As the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul plan for Providence Village on the Motherhouse ground, the Archives has started planning for its future location. When the congregation comes to completion it is incredibly important that the history and contribution of the Sisters be remembered and continue to be made accessible.

At the same time as we were beginning to think about the future of our Archives, the Archdiocese of Kingston was thinking about the future of one of its closed churches. In November 2013 the Archdiocese closed the Church of the Good Thief in Portsmouth Village, in Kingston, Ontario. The Church was built between 1892 and 1894 from limestone quarried, cut and carried to the site by convict labour from the Kingston Penitentiary. The Archdiocese wanted to re-purpose the building in a manner that would honour and respect its heritage as a place of worship and as an important landmark in Portsmouth. In 2014 discussions began regarding potentially converting the church into an archival facility for the Archdiocese of Kingston.

In 2015 a committee, of which I am a member, was formed to pursue the idea of turning the church into an archives. We knew that the exterior of the church needed extensive restoration work, especially the tower. Over the course of the first few months we determined that the Archdiocese was not the only religious organization in Kingston that needed a permanent Archives and that
we would need to sell off the Rectory and surrounding land in order to fund the project.

The Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph and the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul were also looking for permanent homes for their Archives. The RHSJ’s St. Joseph Region Archives moved to temporary space at Hotel Dieu in 2012 when their Regional House was sold. The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent De Paul are coming to completion and as the Motherhouse property is developed into Providence Village, the Archives will need a new home. Both congregations need their archives to move to a climate controlled professional facility where the legacy of the Sisters will be preserved and made accessible for research. The Anglican Diocese of Ontario also expressed interest in the Church of the Good Thief Archives project as their archives was moved to a storage unit when they sold their Diocesan Centre in the summer of 2016.

The Church of the Good Thief rectory and surrounding land were severed in 2017 and sold in October 2018 to Zalcho Construction for residential development. Zalcho has been working closely with the Archdiocese and we see the Church of the Good Thief site as being one vision made up of two enterprises – high quality apartments and a professional archival facility in a park like setting. This vision respects the heritage of the site and its place within the Portsmouth community, while breathing new life into the site and the church. 

In October 2018 the committee hired +VG Architects to conduct an assessment of the exterior envelope of the church and to design the archives. It is important that the exterior of the building be structurally sound and weather proof before starting on the conversion of the interior to an archives. +VG has wonderful experience restoring heritage church buildings and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the project.

Many religious orders that are facing decreasing memberships and uncertain futures are merging their archives or looking for permanent homes for their archives. We hope this project will be trendsetting as an ecumenical archives project that relies heavily on partnerships of likeminded institutions. I believe partnerships are key to the future of religious archives, as more and more institutions face decreasing numbers and resources.

This is an exciting project that will restore and preserve a valuable piece of architectural history, a beloved church building, and will provide a much needed permanent home to the documentary heritage of the Archdiocese of Kingston, the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul, the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph and the Anglican Diocese of Ontario.

Veronica Stienburg, Archivist
Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul


Source: Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Newsletter, Summer 2019 issue

Website: www.providence.ca