This Toronto family wanted a home with character, so they bought a $390,000 church near Hamilton. Now they just have to convert it

This Toronto family wanted a home with character, so they bought a $390,000 church near Hamilton. Now they just have to convert it

Which: Tao Drayton, 43, owner of High Park Renovations; Andresa Drayton, 43, stay-at-home mom; with their children (clockwise from left), Phoenix, 9, Lotus, 12, Quest, 6, and Eros, 4.

The story: Tao grew up in the countryside near Collingwood in an area called Mansfield. One of his parents’ friends lived in a converted school, which Tao admired. He remembered that there were a few renovated churches in the area and thought he might be able to live in one someday.

In 2004, Tao met Andresa, who also grew up out of town near Caledon when they both lived in Toronto. Andresa shared Tao’s desire to live in an unconventional home with lots of character.

In 2009, they moved into a three-bed, two-bath townhouse north of High Park, just before the birth of their daughter, Lotus. The family stayed in the rental while Tao and Andresa looked for something to buy, specifically a church somewhere in town.

However, they soon found themselves out of the market, so they remained in the rental business through the birth of their three sons – Phoenix, Quest and Eros – and put their church conversion plans on hold for the next decade. Tao ran her own remodeling business while Andresa ran the household as a stay-at-home mom.

When the pandemic hit, in March 2020, the Draytons were in Caledon visiting Andresa’s mother for the week. She lives in a large country house on 11 acres, and with the city closed and schools far away, Tao and Andresa figured they’d stay in the country to spend more time together.

During the pandemic, Tao’s renovation business was put on hold. Tao and Andresa enjoyed seeing how their children adapted to life in the countryside. They loved to play outside, build forts and watch wildlife, especially birds.

It reminded Tao and Andresa of their own rural childhood, which they fondly remembered. Suddenly the time seemed right and they thought they could finally start looking for a church to buy outside the city that would be more affordable and also give their children the opportunity to grow up in the countryside.

The hunt: The Draytons began their search for a church in late 2020. They wanted to stay within a 90-minute drive of town and needed a minimum of 2,000 square feet. They were also looking for an outdoor space for the children to play.

In December 2020, they saw a church near Napanee, but the place was a bit too creepy, with stained glass depicting images of bleeding saints.

Then, in early January 2021, they saw a large church between Hamilton and Brantford. They submitted a bid, but lost to a higher bid.

In mid-January 2021, the Draytons visited a church in Haldimand County, 30 minutes south of Hamilton, which was listed for $350,000. It was a former Anglican church built in 1891, which closed in 2008 because its membership had dwindled.

There were wooden double doors that opened into a small alcove and a spacious sanctuary with 20-foot ceilings, with pews and stained glass windows. They loved the tranquility of the sanctuary, as the walls were thick and blocked out sounds from outside.

An alcove led to the bell tower – the Draytons could even ring the bell during their visit by pulling on a long cord. In the basement, there was a bathroom, a small kitchen and a meeting room. But everything was in poor condition, with mold on the walls and ceilings.

Outside there was an acre of lawn around the property where the children could play. The church was directly across the Grand River and five minutes from a school the children could attend.

Plus, the city was just over 90 minutes away, so Tao could keep his business there and it would be easy to visit his family who still lives in Toronto.

But there was a catch: the buyers had to take responsibility and tend to a two-and-a-half-acre cemetery about 150 yards from the church. An application would have to be approved by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario, which involved obtaining police checks and setting up a business. But the Draytons were up for it.

They saw the cemetery as a place that could be peaceful and beautiful, and a way to honor the history of the city and its people. They also talked about it with their children, who didn’t associate it with a scary place.

Two days after visiting the church, the Draytons submitted an offer of $390,000, conditional on funding and an inspection. They went further because there was interest from other buyers, and also because they were disappointed to have been outbid on the previous property.

The church committee, responsible for selling the property, kept a two-week period open for offers. Three weeks later, the Draytons found their offer had been accepted. The church—and its cemetery—belonged entirely to them.

Financing the property was a bit difficult as traditional lenders did not offer a mortgage on a church. But they were able to find private lenders through a broker, just at a higher interest rate.

During the inspection, they discovered that a family of raccoons were living in the steeple, which was collapsing and would require major repairs. The inspector also suspected that there might be asbestos in the floor of the shrine and lead in the paint on the walls. With these findings, the Draytons reduced their offer to $375,000, which the church committee accepted.

They originally set a closing date of May 7, but the church committee was delayed in processing the sale. This was partly due to Covid, but also because the church property included a seven-foot section of the road, which had to be resold to Haldimand County before the sale could be completed. It took longer than expected.

On June 1, the sale was finally completed and the Draytons got the keys to the property – about 50 of them in a Ziploc bag, which included keys to the boxes on the pews and an old safe in the area. from the altar.

The Draytons began renovations, hoping to spend around $300,000. They wanted to keep the sanctuary as an open concept kitchen, living room and dining room. But that would mean building an annex for their dorms. They also wanted to build a grandmother’s suite for Andresa’s godmother, who would live with them and help with the renovations.

Both additions will add approximately 3,000 square feet of living space. The family quarters will have four bedrooms and two bathrooms, while the grandmother’s suite will have one bedroom and one bathroom. The basement will become a family playroom where the boys can play floor hockey.

Factoring in the time needed for the renovations, the Draytons hope to move in by the summer of 2022, so the family can settle in before the kids start school in their new town.

Tao is looking forward to completing the renovation and customizing the space with family design touches. Andresa is looking forward to having more space to host family, out-of-town guests and their kids’ friends for sleepovers, which they couldn’t do in their townhouse.

Since they still have low rent on their rental in High Park, they plan to keep the townhouse as Tao’s office in town and a place for the family to set up shop when they’re in Toronto.

Meanwhile, Tao and Andresa have already started making plans to maintain the cemetery. They created a website, which the cemetery did not have before. And they plan to rehabilitate the road that crosses the cemetery and add benches and a memorial garden where the ashes can be scattered.

Tao and Andresa also plan to work with local experts to preserve the historical and family records of those interred in the cemetery. “There’s so much history here,” says Andresa. “There’s so much respect for the continuity of a really important place that needs to go on.” They see it as an honor to be the new guardians of the cemetery.

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