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Déjà vu all over again?

Today could be the informal kickoff of a very interesting debate over the future of the rectory at the south end of Catholic Hill. Church of Our Lady’s pastor, Father Dennis Noon, is set to meet for the first time with the city’s senior heritage planner, Stephen Robinson, who wants to tour the rectory. What happens next is anybody’s guess, but there’s some sense of déjà vu, given how the Loretto convent was threatened with demolition a few years back.
The rectory, built in the 1850s, has been around longer than the nearby Church of Our Lady. Both the rectory and the church are built from distinctive local limestone, although the rectory’s limestone has been covered up by stucco for decades. It’s now used to house four church clergy, including Noon, who also have their offices there. Its past uses include having served as a boarding school for boys, Noon says.
Even with its stucco exterior, it’s still quite a handsome five-storey building, with attractive windows. But Noon says it’s in bad shape in many ways and would be very expensive to fix up.
Heritage Guelph, the city’s heritage advisory committee, has had its eye on the buildings of Catholic Hill for years. It’s easy to see why. Paul Ross, a member and former longtime chair of Heritage Guelph, describes Catholic Hill as probably the city’s most historically significant site. With its glorious church and other old buildings towering over the city’s downtown, it draws the eyes of residents and visitors alike. “It is kind of synonymous with the city, as well as being a very important part of its heritage,” Ross says.
When the Loretto convent was threatened with demolition by the Diocese of Hamilton, which owns it and the rest of Catholic Hill, a campaign to save it led to its conversion into a new, bigger home for the Guelph Civic Museum. A lot of city and provincial money went into that project, along with lesser amounts from the federal government and from public fundraising in Guelph.
For now, the rectory poses mostly just questions. How bad a condition is it really in? Will the diocese end up seeking a city permit to demolish it and replace it with a smaller house for its clergy? If so, how would Heritage Guelph, city hall and the Guelph public react? We may know the answers to some of these questions before the year ends.

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