In the extreme northwest corner of Toronto, stretching from Pearson Airport to the Humber River, is Rexdale – one of Toronto’s largest industrial corridors, and home to a group of residential neighbourhoods developed after WWII.
After the completion of Highway 401 in the 1950s, Rexdale quickly became a sought-after post-war suburb for families seeking steady employment and relief from downtown Toronto’s overcrowded, working-class neighbourhoods. Single-family bungalows were built on quiet residential streets, and neighbourhoods sold on the promise of space, safety and upward mobility.
Decades later, the demographic and economic conditions of Rexdale have shifted. In the 1960s, waves of immigrants began arriving to the community from Somalia, India, Italy and Jamaica. Many new immigrant families moved into publicly funded, high-rise apartment buildings built along the major commuter roads that divide the neighbourhoods. The recession in the early 1990s, and the ongoing decline of Toronto’s manufacturing industry, was deeply felt in Rexdale – many local residents were put out of work.
Over the years, little investment has been made to accommodate the changing needs of the community. About a quarter of Rexdale households live in poverty, and lack access to basic necessities like affordable and healthy food, healthcare and employment services. Long distances between residential areas, shopping malls, strip plazas and schools make the local streets feel isolated and dangerous. Although many local residents do not drive, the community is poorly serviced by public transit. Reports have shown that the absence of proper services, quality public space, and economic opportunity, has created an environment that is plagued by crime, drugs and gang violence.
In 2011, a local ministry called the Life Community Church of God purchased 3.2 acres of industrial land at Highway 27 and Rexdale Boulevard, in the heart of the Rexdale community. Their vision was to create a catalyst for change across the district: a church and performance hall for a growing Jamaican congregation that could double as a diverse, intercultural community centre. The focus of the centre would be to help at-risk teens and young adults stay off the streets, by providing programs in employment training, childcare, and community leadership.
SvN was hired to give shape to the Church’s vision. This took the form of a 1,100-seat worship and performance hall, a 50-seat chapel, a commercial teaching kitchen, a daycare facility, a café and bookstore, a professional recording studio, a 300-seat multipurpose room, and dedicated meeting spaces for kids, teens, women’s and men’s groups.