Stunning Iroquois church transforms into stunning event centre

The former Iroquois United Church. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Brinston and Hulbert-Valley United churches also for sale within Iroquois-Matilda Pastoral Charge

Tom Van Dusen

Nation Valley News

IROQUOIS – South Dundas Economic Development Officer Rob Hunter has nothing but praise for the new Oneida Grand Centre and the two sisters who own and are now refurbishing the former Iroquois United Church.

“It’s a fabulous project!” Hunter exclaims.

The sisters are Ky-Lee and Sasha Hansen who paid $360,000 for the former church building and attached manse, plus $300,000 so far in renovations as they head for opening March 1. They’ll start with a licensed gourmet restaurant and catering business, including takeout and patio, “ballroom” available for special events and, possibly down the road, a boutique hotel.

With COVID-19 a continuing factor in running a hospitality business, the idea is to remain flexible, Ky-Lee emphasized, adding she’s still waiting for new custom signage.

The Hansons know that Iroquois itself can’t fully support such an ambitious project and expect to draw customers from along the St. Lawrence Seaway and north to Ottawa, said Ky-Lee Hansen now living in North Grenville. Recently arrived from British Columbia, her sister and mother Susan are living in the manse.

With no connection to Iroquois or the area, Ky-Lee, who owns an online publishing house, said it was the building itself that drew her. The project is a repurposing of the stunning church built after Seaway construction took out the former church which had served from 1877. Ontario Hydro spent $421,000 to erect the new church and manse which officially opened Easter Sunday, 1957.

Stained glass windows were imported from Holland. Those windows are still in place, Ky-Lee said, but hidden and protected behind new siding.

On the down-side, sale and decommissioning of the church marked the beginning of the end for the Iroquois-Matilda Pastoral Charge, a union of three United churches forged in 2013 as a way to continue covering expenses in the face of dwindling congregations. The history of Iroquois United itself goes back to its Methodist predecessors and construction of a small frame church in 1800.

Hired as the first and — as it turns out — only Iroquois-Matilda pastor was Rev. Valerie Vande Viele who departed last month and won’t be replaced, said Iroquois United Council Chair Sandie Decker.

In fact, the Iroquois congregation is disbanding and by spring, congregants will have moved on to other United churches in the area. During COVID-19, most services have been held online in cooperation with Riverview Presbyterian Church which Decker said has been very helpful as a borrowed venue.

The buildings belonging to the other tripartite partners, Brinston and Hulbert-Valley, are closed and for sale, with those congregants also moving on to other churches. Hulbert-Valley recently distributed $25,000 in closing funds to Dundas County Hospice and House of Lazarus. The disbanding church will have more money to give to worthy causes following the sale.

Hunter congratulated the Hansons on the top quality work being done on the former church after acquiring the necessary rezoning, still to be finally approved by the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry.  Not only will the project provide a boost to the South Dundas business tax base, but it should become a top tourist attraction.

The women are showing a strong interest in South Dundas economic development, with Sasha joining the municipal tourism advisory committee. Although months away from opening, Oneida has already made its mark by winning $3,000 from the regional Sparks Program aimed at triggering new tourism opportunities. The sisters proposed a 1950s-style summer picnic with vintage car show.

Ky-Lee said it’s gratifying to be so well received in the community. The project was also awarded a $40,000 improvement grant from SDG.

While the Oneida Centre is big, it’s not the only significant commercial development underway in South Dundas, Hunter said, pointing to another project in Iroquois, a gas station Tim Hortons combo on Highway 2. Other developments are in the works, he added.

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