By any standard, the building of our Christian Education Centre in 1962 ranks as a major event in the history of the congregation. And there’s no doubt it was among our most controversial projects. At the beginning, however, everyone was on the same page. Highway 401 had reached Milton not long before, bringing growth both to the town and our congregation. Everyone agreed St. Paul’s needed more space. After much discussion, including a proposal to dig a basement under the sanctuary, we decided to put up a new building on the present parking lot. The town, however, had other ideas. It argued that our project would take up too much of the lot, leaving hardly any parking space.
St. Paul’s, led by Rev. Lorne Graham, forcefully opposed the town’s view. Our minister was a tough former naval officer, who was much more inclined to give orders than take them. He also took comfort from the fact that a prominent member of our congregation sat on the town committee that would decide the matter. Rev. Graham expected strong support from his parishioners. When our members sided with the town the minister was thunderstruck. His colourful outbursts came straight from his naval past but they did nothing to change the town’s resolve.
Eventually the issue went before the Ontario Municipal Board, which is the supreme court for deciding municipal disputes. We lost.
The defeat forced us to start again from scratch. What we came up with was far different from our original blueprint but it has proved a high-quality and long-lasting solution. Before the big change, two buildings, in addition to the sanctuary, provided space for our Church School and numerous other programs. One was our original chapel, attached to the west wall of the sanctuary, and opening onto Main Street. The second was Church House, a free-standing building just west of the chapel and also facing Main Street. (This had been a residence purchased by Dr. Keith Stevenson, a prominent member of the congregation, who later donated it to St. Paul’s.) We decided to replace these two buildings with a single structure – the Christian Education Centre.
Strange as it may seem today, demolition of the 110-year-old chapel met little opposition in the congregation. In those days little thought was given to saving “heritage” buildings – that interest developed in the late 1970s after the Milton Historical Society, led by President Jim Dills, campaigned to preserve the courthouse/jail , which later became the Milton Town Hall. Church House was sold for one dollar to Elmer Zimmerman, a generous supporter of our church. Elmer moved the building to 80 Robert Street. The financial campaign for the spacious centre was led by Peter McWilliams, a feisty lawyer who lives in Oakville and still practices in Milton. St. Paul’s members who played major roles in the campaign are Jim Dills, Len McNeil and Charles Thomson. For years, we could have hardly imagined carrying out our many-sided programs without the Christian Education Centre, including Graham Hall named after the minister who worked so hard to bring it about. Our investment of almost $150,000 produced priceless dividends both for our congregation and the Milton community.
In 2012 and 2013, the interior of the Christian Education Centre was refurbished and reopened as the St. Paul’s Community Building.