The old Prison Chapel at 70 East Liberty Street remains empty and derelict, as it has for decades despite Liberty Village’s revitalization. Neighbourhood supporters continue to advocate for the space to be developed in some manner.
Although a relic of Toronto’s history and the soul of where Liberty Village came from, today’s Chapel sits on the edge of Liberty Park, surrounded by glossy condos, and remains empty. Some would call it an eyesore while others praise it for giving the area a historic atmosphere.
Originally a Roman Catholic prison chapel built in the 1870s, it was built by inmates of the Toronto Central Prison. For decades, it’s been vacant and it’s been unclear as to why. According to a CityNews report, there are many residents who are perfectly fine with having the former prison chapel remain as is. It is unquestionably a beautiful building, even in its current state.
Part of the reason why nothing has happened to the space can be attributed to the City of Toronto, the owners of the building, and the Pegasus Group, an organization who has subleased it. The Pegasus Group owns and operates several restaurants and historical locations across Canada, blending history with hospitality. They no doubt had plans for the Liberty Village site although nothing’s happened since.
When Liberty Village was first being developed, the space was subleased by the city to Pegasus Group under an agreement that it would be refurbished in the location. The sublease was granted for a 99-year period. The rent charged – only $1.00 plus HST.
The city wanted the changes to the Liberty Village chapel to happen, however needed private sector funds to make it so. In the context of saving the building, the city agreed to the terms. The Pegasus Group has hopes of developing it into a restaurant, however the building needs extensive structural work. Things like electrical and plumbing are non-existent, and it’s going to take millions of dollars to bring it up to code.
As recent as last year, the City of Toronto has looked into taking over 70 East Liberty Street once again, however negotiations fell through and that doesn’t appear to be an option any longer. Currently, the Pegasus Group continues to explore opportunities to lease it to a third party.
In the meantime, 70 East Liberty Street is a protected building and normally demolition would not be an option. With that said, if safety becomes an issue, there could legally be grounds for demolition. Thereby, at some point, the City of Toronto could simply demolish and build anew. Alternatively, if the Pegasus Group does not make use of the building within the next few years, Toronto could cancel the lease and repossess the building choosing to do what they will with it.
No matter what happens with the former prison chapel, one thing that’s for certain is that the historic chapel at 70 East Liberty Street won’t be there forever. For Liberty Village residents, treasure it while it’s there. The Roman Catholic prison chapel’s beauty, unfortunately, belongs to another time.