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Visiting the St Francis Centre, Ajax, Ontario: 1869-1871 High Gothic architecture, now a municipal culture centre

Updated on May 7, 2013
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
St Francis Centre, Ajax
St Francis Centre, Ajax | Source
Heritage plaque, St Francis Centre, Ajax
Heritage plaque, St Francis Centre, Ajax | Source
St Francis Centre, Ajax
St Francis Centre, Ajax | Source
Map location of Ajax, Durham Region, Ontario
Map location of Ajax, Durham Region, Ontario | Source

Integrating 19th century heritage

One of the most conspicuous buildings in Ajax, Ontario is the St Francis Centre, in the town's Church Street.

The building dates from 1869 - 1871, and its architect was Henry Langley (1). Among the crowning features of the building is the tall spire and tower, which since the second half of the 19th century has had such a visual impact on the skyline of what is now Ajax.

Previously, the area around the building formed part of Pickering. Indeed, what has retained the name of Pickering Village in the vicinity is incorporated into the Town of Ajax.

The structure is executed in red and buff brick. It is understood that the brick was manufactured from clay in Whitby.

Pointed window arching is evident, as is pointed spire roofing (reminiscent of 19th century Ontario villas). Together with the pointed spire, these features combine to assert the Gothic element of the building's style.

Dormer windows described as 'trefoil rose coloured' (2), closely resemble the Ontario Provincial symbol, the trillium: these repeated features in the roof are unusual in achitectural terms; the main photo, above, shows (to the right) two of these windows, with their trillium-like shapes.

In 2007 the Town of Ajax purchased the building, and its formal completion as St Francis Centre occurred in 2011. The facility is described as 'a performing arts and culture centre'; 'the first publicly-owned, publicly accessible heritage facility in Ajax' (3). For this purpose, the structure underwent a program of internal re-design. Previously it served as a Roman Catholic parish church building.

In 2011 the Ajax Heritage Advisory Committee designated the property's heritage status. (I have supplied a photo of the information panel, supplied by Heritage Ajax, situated at the modern glass Chruch Street frontage of the property.)

Church Street, close to the St Francis Centre, has a number of older, private properties with ornate villa-type frontage, making for a picturesque street environment around the Centre. Thus, a mature heritage environment is evident at and around this property which began to be built only two years after Confederation, and the historic re-designation of Canada West (previously Upper Canada) as Ontario.

May 7, 2013


(1) Architect Langley was responsible for the design of many church buildings in Ontario.

(2) & (3) Source: information panel, St Francis Centre.

Also worth seeing

In Ajax itself, Post Hill House on Kingston Road West is an example of Rural Gothic Revival architecture; McKay House (or Charnacy). dating from 1854, is the only 2 storey fieldstone house still in existence in Ajax.

Pickering (distance: approx. 2 kilometres) is well-served with heritage and picturesque visitor attractions; these include the Erskine Church and Pioneer Memorial Cairn, the Nautical Village and Frenchman's Bay, the Rouge Valley shared with Toronto, and many others.

Pickering Museum Village, Greenwood (distance: approx. 10 kilometres) contains various heritage buildings: a Temperance Hotel, a General Store, barns, a blacksmith's and woodworking shop, Redman House, a Bible Christian Chapel, and a Gift Shop.


How to get there: Air Canada, flies to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. (Distance from Toronto Pearson Airport to Ajax: 55.8 kilometres). GO Train operates a service between Union Station, Toronto and Ajax. Highway 401 gives easy road access to Ajax. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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