From house of worship to home for seven

This weekend’s Spectator featured an inspiring front-page story: Tao Drayton and Andresa Sisson, the new owners of St. John’s Anglican in rural Haldimand, are converting the 130-year-old church into a home for their family of seven.

Like many heritage buildings before they see new life through adaptive reuse, when Drayton and Sisson purchased St. John’s Anglican, along with its historic cemetery, the village church had been vacant for 13 years.

Exterior of St. John’s Anglican Church in the village of York. Photo: Cathie Coward.
Tao Drayton and Andresa Sisson walk through a section of the cemetery that they now administer. Photo: Cathie Coward.

Kudos to Drayton and Sisson for their vision in bringing new life to this church, and all the work they’re putting into making it a reality — with an end result that will combine housing with keeping this gem in the community for future generations. Their respect for this 130-year-old piece of local architecture — and can-do attitude to overcoming challenges from mold to a structurally challenged tower — are truly admirable.

From J.P. Antonacci’s article:

Sisson and Drayton choose to see every obstacle that comes with renovating a 130-year-old place of worship — from shoring up the crumbling bell tower to carting out hundreds of pounds of raccoon poop — as part of what they call their “church-to-dream-home renovation adventure” — an adventure that includes becoming caretakers of the centuries-old churchyard cemetery.

“The workmanship that would go into a building like this now would be substantial, let alone 130 years ago,” Drayton said.

Located steps from the Grand River on an acre of green space, the church closed in 2008 due to dwindling attendance, with parishioners finding new spiritual homes in nearby Caledonia and Cayuga.

Despite sitting idle since then, the space still casts a spell.

“There’s a certain smell of a church. There’s a quietness. You don’t hear the road,” Sisson said. “And it was well-loved. So calm. The ceiling and the light and the openness was just magic.”

Drayton, a contractor, had always dreamed of living in a converted church.

Despite its age, the church is not an officially designated heritage building. Buyers could technically do anything they wanted, from knocking out the stained glass to levelling the building altogether.

But that was out of the question.

“Don’t even say it,” Drayton said, recoiling at the suggestion.

“This is over 100 years of people’s goals and prayers and love,” Sisson added. “So much happened here.”

Follow them on Instagram: @leap.of.faith.home and @theyorkcemetery (Previous news coverage: blogTO | Toronto Life)

The village of York is located on the Grand River, not far from Caledonia’s Toll House and Ruthven Park National Historic Site.

Spectator print edition: “A village church resurrected” (March 5, 2022, A1, A8–9) | online: “A village church resurrected: Toronto family turning shuttered Haldimand County place of worship into home”

The Hamilton Spectator (est. 1846) is published by Metroland Media Group, a division of Torstar.

Photos: Cathie Coward.

Tao Drayton and Andresa Sisson in the church they have purchased to convert to their home in York. Photo: Cathie Coward.
The large stained glass window at the back of the church. Photo: Cathie Coward.
Andresa stands at the island in their partially constructed kitchen. Tao, who has his own renovation business, found the large kitchen at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore and is adapting it for their new home. Photo: Cathie Coward.
Tao and York resident Mike Kolne who is a volunteer grounds keeper for the cemetery that they now administer. Photo: Cathie Coward.

Spectator online | in print: A8A8bA9