Retirees' Association

Retirees Association of Queen's

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RAQ Members Giving Back 

Bruce Hutchinson is InSPIREd!

Having been raised on a small farm in Ontario, and coming from a family engaged in community organizations, I find reward in working with groups of people to achieve measureable goals.  In my work at Queen’s as Director of University Research Services and Associate VP (Research), I found great pleasure in helping groups of researchers work together on multidisciplinary grants in a number of different fields.  So, when I retired, I knew I wanted to do more work with groups of people on projects that built community….in this case on the reimagining of the historic building, Sydenham Street United Church, as a community hub serving needs beyond its traditional role as a place of worship.  This iconic building is now known as “The Spire”.

Like many mainline churches, attendance at Sydenham Street United is not what it used to be – yet this heritage building has been serving the community in many ways since 1852 and contributes to Kingston’s viability as a tourist and business destination.  Although the congregation has a clear mission, it became obvious that something different needed to be done to be sustainable in the longer term and to continue to operate as a beautiful and viable space that contributed beyond the congregation and would serve as a genuine community hub.

In 2013, the congregation tasked a group of congregants plus members of the community outside the church in  imaging a role for this heritage building as a hub serving many groups, including the congregation.  In other words, the congregation wanted to intentionally share the building with the community.  For many years, of course, groups have been using the building – a self-help group and Kingston Choral Society since the 60’s, Cantabile Choirs for over 20 years, Kingston Canadian Film Festival for over ten years and others – but this would be an explicit invitation to the community to share in the use and support of the space. 

While the building had been kept in good condition, there were improvements that were required to bring it up to modern standards.  The building has only three levels, with kitchens on two of these, but we needed to improve accessibility and add more washrooms to serve the up to 850 people using the performance hall/sanctuary.   We conducted a successful feasibility study to determine if we could raise $1,000,000 or more for this building project.  We also asked people what name they would want to have for the renovated building.  The Spire was the one chosen.  Hence “The Spire” and the organization “Friends of The Spire Inc.” were born!!  

The Spire Today

Since the fall of 2017, Friends of The Spire have raised close to our goal ($700,000 from congregants and $300,000 in private donations and grants from federal, provincial and private foundations), installed an elevator, installed 16 washroom stalls (including an accessible washroom on the main and upper levels) and raised funds to complete accessibility from the street at the William Street door (scheduled for completion this year). In addition, Friends of The Spire Inc. has incorporated, received charitable status and is engaged with raising funds for capital and maintenance improvements to, and participating in the administration of The Spire.  An endowment fund has been established at the Community Foundation for Kingston and Area, the income from which goes to support maintenance projects at The Spire.  As one of the community members on our board says, “it is so satisfying to have our dreams for the building be validated by grant issuers and other donors.  We are definitely on the right track with re-purposing and visioning for this building”.  

That “right track” has resulted already in an average of about 1,000 people visits per week.  People of all ages, backgrounds, and convictions gather to celebrate the arts, to sing, to act, to dance, to find safe harbor and to learn together. During this past December alone about 10,000 people in choirs, rehearsals, and other groups participated in activities in The Spire.  Contributing to that number were some sold out events for Christmas concerts attended by Kingstonians of many walks of life. In addition, The Spire hosts more than 20 not-for-profit organizations. A sincere thank you to all who have donated, talked about and attended functions at this flourishing site – The Spire.

As The Spire continues to transform and open its doors to ever-broadening uses and people, it has a renewed life as a welcoming place to gather within our community and an even stronger beacon of hope, inspiration, and joy.

The Spire - a rewarding project achieved by a relatively small number of very committed people!!!  Please check out The Spire web site at, find us on Facebook, or attend an event held at The Spire.   If you would like more information, or to find out how to contribute to the sustainability of this landmark heritage building, you can contact me directly at

Bruce Hutchinson, RAQ Member and Chair, Friends of The Spire Inc.

Photos  of The Spire by Jennifer McKendry


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