Carleton seals the deal with Dominion-Chalmers

The sanctuary at Dominion-Chalmers United Church.

Carleton University has announced that it has completed negotiations to purchase Dominion-Chalmers United Church for $6.65 million.  

The acquisition was made public late Thursday afternoon. The historic church is located on O’Connor Street between Lisgar and Cooper. One of the final hurdles was the approval of the United Church of Canada, which was given recently, clearing the way for the university’s takeover. The purchase has also been supported by a $5-million investment by the provincial Infrastructure ministry.

The goal of the purchase and rehabilitation of the church is to provide a multi-purpose performance space for Carleton students, faculty and the community.

Former Carleton president and vice-chancellor Dr. Roseann Runte had identified the need at the university for a performance space of the size of Dominion-Chalmers in a strategic plan she prepared after joining Carleton. Near the end of her tenure, she initiated an investigation of the possible purchase and that path has been pursued since. The church itself was suffering under the heavy burden of a massive building and a shrinking congregation so the partnership was a welcome one for both parties.

Carleton has no space on its campus that seats more than 400, the university said in a media release. 

Dominion-Chalmers United Church, exterior.

At 37,000 square feet and seating for 1,000 along with potential rehearsal and classroom space, Dominion-Chalmers fit the bill for the university. The church is well known as a venue for concerts and festivals hosting more than 70 events each year. The congregation will continue to meet in the building.

“Our purchase of Dominion-Chalmers United Church is perfectly aligned with the university’s mission to play a central role in the cultural life of Ottawa, and it’s a unique solution that allows the church to maintain its historic presence downtown and a gathering place for its congregation,” said Carleton’s Interim President Alastair Summerlee in the release. Work on the building will begin as soon as possible, an official said, but no start date was provided because contracts need to be negotiated with builders. The space may be ready for formal classes by January. 

“For several years now we have been facing a future where we would not be able to keep up this historic building,” said Dominion-Chalmers church council chair David Hayman. “This is a sale that is good for the future of the congregation. It is also good for Carleton University and for the people of Ottawa.

Hayman noted that the congregation has a history of supporting education and music.

“We were among the early supporters of the Presbyterian Ladies’ College, which later became the Ottawa Ladies’ College, which was a predecessor of Carleton University.” 

After agreeing in principle to buy the building in the winter, the university conducted a due diligence review that has satisfied Carleton’s Board of Governors.

The Romanesque Revival building will see some limited renovations that will modernize it. These changes will also help create high-quality recording spaces and improve it as a rental space by, for example, upgrading the lobby area and improving the heating system.

The university’s music school will find a new home in the building, along with theatre and performance students. And the Carleton University Art Gallery will get a new exhibition space.

The church was built starting in 1912 with the first services held in March 1914.

“It is hard for a religious congregation to let go of a building that has been its home for more than 100 years,” said Hayman in the release.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.