Submitted by Robyn Gillam
About a month ago, I noticed people inspecting the front doors of St. Lawrence. I discovered that they were being assessed for repair and restoration over the Summer. The work is being undertaken by Heritage Mill of Dundas, specializing in architectural millwork as well as traditional carpentry and joinery. Now that restoration work is in progress and the tower door has been removed for refurbishment, I spoke to Alan of Heritage Mill about work on the doors and how it relates to their other projects. Alan, who grew up in the UK, fell in love with woodworking and carpentry in shop class at school and soon graduated to cabinet making and antique restoration. He worked for museums, restoring furniture and other objects going back to the Middle Ages. In Canada, he switched to buildings and architectural elements like doors and staircases. Heritage Mill has restored and replaced doors at Cambridge and Guelph town halls and has been employed by the City of Hamilton to work at Whitehern and Dundurn Castle. It also provides training in architectural millwork.
The tower and front doors of St. Lawrence are not those originally installed in 1890. Beginning in 1954 then parish priest, Father McBride, decided to replace the existing doors, of hinge and plank construction, with something less austere as part of a general renovation. Both sets of doors feature panels with a flowing tracery decoration and six roundels each, with symbols of Jesus’ original students, the Twelve Apostles. The doors appear to date from the 1960s, but, interestingly, the handle on the tower door is at least ten years older. The doors need renovation as they have developed leakage as a result of the deterioration of the varnish. Once this happens the wood can degrade rapidly and water begins to leak inside the building. Repair and revarnishing will slow this process but it is caused by the location of the doors. Their elevated, southern exposure has been exacerbated by a complete lack of shade during the summer and exposure to precipitation at other times of the year. Although the heat dries the wood out, it has still suffered progressive deterioration over the sixty-odd years that the doors have been in place.
Problems with these doors highlight the challenge of building structures able to survive the southern Ontario climate. Greater fluctuations of temperature and more rainfall caused by climate change have made these problems worse. They can be addressed by careful attention to the selection of appropriate materials, as well as structure design and landscape interventions like proper drainage and planting more trees. That such a carefully constructed, durable building as St. Lawrence church can be affected by these environmental factors shows their seriousness and how they need to be carefully considered in relation to all building and environmental projects in the neighbourhood.
How long will each door will take to restore and when the project will be finished? When the main doors are being worked, on entry to the church will temporarily through the tower doors. According to Alan, the finished doors should be back in position by the Fall.
I would like to thank Alan for agreeing to talk to me about the doors as well as the social and environmental aspects of heritage.