History of St. Francis
Originally constructed in 1871 by Henry Langley, the former St. Francis de Sales Church gives meaning to the name of the street on which it is situated (Church Street), and is an important symbol of the Irish immigrants that settled in the Pickering Village area in the 1800’s. The building is an excellent example of High Victorian Gothic Church Architecture and is representative of the Picturesque Eclecticism of architectural design in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Unique features of the building include the distinctive octagonal church spire, which is covered with the original polychromatic slate, and the irreplaceable Gothic arched stained glass windows, which bear the names of some of the early founding families who donated them. The steeply pitched roof is marked by three rose coloured window dormers, which are very rare in a church and have the original decorative filigree ironwork at each peak. In 1999, the building was designated as an Ajax heritage building, and in 2007, the Town acquired the key cultural and heritage landmark, to protect and restore the structure. The acquisition of the building is an important one, representing the first publicly owned and accessible heritage facility in Ajax.
With funding from Federal, Provincial and Municipal Infrastructure dollars, the Town launched a very exciting heritage conservation/cultural development project using the facility. The conceptual plan for the adaptive rehabilitation of the former church was developed through an extensive staff and community stakeholder consultation process. Stakeholders, representing a vast cross-section of cultural users and performing groups, local community groups and residents were included in the design development process. The building was returned to its historic and majestic beauty through a careful restoration and renovation process, and was then transformed into the St. Francis Centre, a multi-use community arts, cultural and performance venue; the first of its kind in west Durham. Combining heritage architecture with modern design, the St. Francis Centre features a stage, retractable theatre seating for 150, reception/meeting space, glass atrium, bar, catering kitchen, theatrical light, sound and audio-visual capabilities. This flexible programming space is able to accommodate a variety of private and community-based programming including a myriad of arts and cultural programming such as theatre, exhibitions, films, musical performances, concerts, recitals, corporate and social receptions, lectures and workshop space.