When Sandra Crabtree, Gerald MacGarvie and three of their children were touring Dominion-Chalmers United Church while deliberating whether the Crabtree Foundation should support Carleton University’s purchase of the historic downtown Ottawa property, a small group of musicians was rehearsing in the sanctuary, so the visitors quietly walked along the back of the balcony.
The sounds emanating from the stage in the acoustically stunning space, and the light filtering through the stained glass windows, was overwhelmingly beautiful.
Crabtree, MacGarvie and their children — who together constitute the board of directors of the family foundation — decided unanimously to give Carleton a generous gift.
The Crabtree Foundation’s $2-million donation, which was celebrated at a reception at the church on June 5 and is the largest single gift in the foundation’s history, will help the university transform Dominion-Chalmers into a new cultural and community hub in the heart of the city.
“Thinking about how best to express my feelings about this project, two words came to mind: idea and good,” Sandra Crabtree said, reflecting on Carleton’s “Here for Good” ethos, the university’s mission to contribute to the greater good of society.
Then she read aloud from a letter written by her grandfather, Harold Crabtree, who founded the foundation in 1951: “Over the years, I hope that our foundation’s revenue can grow and become a more powerful instrument for good.”
“My family,” said Sandra Crabtree, “is very proud to be part of this.”
Students Excited about Potential for Dominion-Chalmers
The reception at Dominion-Chalmers, the first of a number of events in the coming months to thank supporters of the purchase, was emceed by a Carleton music student and gifted performer and multi-instrumentalist, Angelique Francis.
“This excited me personally as a musician and as a Carleton student,” said Francis, “and it’s also exciting for the entire arts community in Ottawa. I look forward to what this space will become, not only physically, but also for the people who use it.”
The university’s transformation of the historic church east of O’Connor Street between Lisgar and Cooper — recently approved by the United Church of Canada — will provide a multi-purpose performance space for students and faculty. Carleton currently has no space on campus that seats more than 400, hindering its ability to host large performances or lectures.
Dominion-Chalmers United Church, which is about 37,000 square feet with a seating capacity of approximately 1,000 in the main space, will not only provide much-needed room for the university’s growing music program and other departments, it will also continue to serve as a community, cultural and artistic space for the broader Ottawa area.
The facility currently hosts more than 70 concerts and music festivals each year, and Carleton hopes to increase the number of concerts and community events. In addition, Dominion-Chalmers will continue to host services for the church congregation and provide a home for their ministry.
“For several years now we have been facing a future where we would not be able to keep up this historic building,” Church Council Chair David Hayman said in a recent statement. “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.
“Our congregation has a long history of supporting both education and music in this city. 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. So, it is a fitting legacy that this building continues to serve the people of Ottawa by promoting education and music for the benefit of all.”
“What a lovely opportunity we have here,” said Linda Ann Daly, a member of the university’s Board of Governors and chair of its Community Relations and Advancement committee. “Carleton was created by the community, and now we’re very solidly going to be in the middle of the community and contributing to Ottawa’s social and cultural fabric while serving the greater good.”
An Important Part of the Life of the City
Mayor Jim Watson joined the chorus of distinguished guests thanking the Crabtree Foundation on June 5, naming many of the arts groups that have used and will continue to use the church for performances and festivals, and noting the vital role of Ottawa’s philanthropic community.
“We all know that arts and culture are an important part of the life of a city,” he said.
“Carleton is eager to play a central role in our cultural life, and the acquisition of this church is a big step toward that goal. This is another example of the role Carleton continues to play in our civic life.”
Carleton Interim President Alastair Summerlee expressed his appreciation for the Crabtree Foundation’s support and thanked his predecessor, Roseann O’Reilly Runte, who had initially reached out to the foundation.
When Summerlee first visited the Carleton campus after accepting the interim presidency, Runte invited him into her office, looked him in the eye, and without providing much context, asked him to promise that he would buy a church.
“Then, when I actually came to this facility, I instantly understood what she was talking about,” said Summerlee, citing not only the main concert hall as a “superb performance space” but also the planned state-of-the-art recording studio that will be created in the basement and a beautiful side garden.
Summerlee read from a letter that Runte wrote to the Crabtree Foundation — “thank you for your contribution, your patience, and for believing in this project” — and quoted Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran: “Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life, bringing peace, abolishing strife.”
“The opportunity to use this wonderful facility to make music has the potential to change the world,” said Summerlee. “We will open our doors to the community, and be a cultural hub for everyone.”
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