Sunday

Merritton Development Update #5

Cruising through beautiful downtown Merritton the other day when I noticed a Sold sign on the old Scotiabank building.
Did some snooping around and found out the deal closed late last week. So, I dropped in Wednesday.
After all, the former money-depositing joint is a well-preserved, attractive-looking structure of some heritage significance to Merrittonians. Figured they might want to know what was up.
Has to be a new bar, right? Or a coffee shop. Maybe a pizzeria.
Nope.
The building is being transformed into a church. The Life Centre, to be exact.
This news came courtesy of Peter McDonald, who shares pastor duties with wife Sharon at Life Centre.
McDonald, 55, was working on interior renovations when I entered unannounced and was kind enough to give me a tour of the place. Nice digs.
Indeed, it was exactly what Life Centre was looking for -- a reasonably priced building that wasn't in need of a major facelift.
The church paid $260,000 (asking price $295,000) for it, said McDonald, and with some relatively minor work -- removal of the old bank counter and an office, putting in a new floor, painting the interior -- the church sanctuary should be completed some time next week.
Life Centre officials more or less stumbled upon this spot. They had been seeking a home for about a year and a half, and in March decided to check out the old Union House Tavern.
The tour didn't go well.
"We went down to the basement and it was like a swimming pool," said
McDonald, who also described the loose wires hanging about as "an electrical nightmare."
"And they wanted $400,000 for it," he said with some incredulity.
But all was not lost. McDonald noticed next-door neighbour Scotiabank had a sign announcing the branch was moving to the Sobeys plaza on Glendale Avenue. He returned the next day to check into leasing possibilities and discovered a For Sale sign on the property.
The church put in a successful offer and got the early closing date it desired.
Goodbye hall of commerce, hello place of worship.
Let's not bid adieu, though, without acknowledging the site's bank history.
The Bank of Nova Scotia opened a branch there in 1912, setting up shop in a two-storey building previously occupied by the Imperial Bank and the Bank of Toronto.
In the mid-1930s, the wooden structure was moved to the back of the property, allowing the current building to be constructed in its streetfront place.
"The structure is modern in every respect," reported The Standard on the day of the official opening Oct. 24, 1936, "with two fine vaults, one on the ground floor and another storage vault in the basement."
A large rear addition was put on in 1956 and a smaller one in 1986.
A Scotiabank staff magazine from 1961 explained the demand for the major addition "was due mainly to increased employment at Alliance Paper Mills and other industrial establishments." "From 450 to 500 paper mills employees look to the Bank of Nova Scotia here to cash their weekly pay cheques. Several hundred employees of other industries help to turn the branch into a 'beehive of activity' every Thursday and Friday."
Ahh yes, those were the days. Part of that period is living on at the church, though. To his surprise, McDonald discovered the basement vault doors were home to a number of signatures and dates.
Turns out it was a tradition for bank managers to sign the doors on the date of their leaving. The first scribbling is from 1912, which suggests the vault was moved from the old digs to the new one.
Later, the signing tradition was broadened to include longtime branch employees recording their retirement dates and new managers noting their start times.
They're keepers, said McDonald of the signatures, explaining the vault doors are one piece of old bank memorabilia that won't be painted or removed.
As for New Life, the pastor, who has done missionary work all over the world for the past 20 years, said the church should be up to full speed soon.
I'm guessing you can bank on it.
dherod@stcatharinesstandard.ca

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