Toronto couple abandon the city to renovate a church with their own cemetery


Another Toronto family has joined those fleeing city life for something more affordable and quiet, but they have a lot of work to do to make their country church a home.

West Toronto residents Tao and Andresa Drayton bought an old Anglican church near Hamilton in June and say it’s a dream come true.

“I always wanted an open space, they are so beautiful they have so much history. And everything is handmade with love,” Andresa told blogTO.

The couple are large with four grown children aged 12, 9, 6 and 4 and have felt the need for space.

“We love the high ceilings and the loft feeling, the architecture of the churches (and) everything in there,” Tao says.

When the shutdowns hit, they left town to be with their families. Their children enjoyed spending more time outdoors and connecting with nature while they were away. So they started looking for a church to renovate within an hour of Toronto.

“We grew up outside of town, further north of town, and were interested in giving that kind of life, at this point, to our kids,” Tao said.

The old St. John’s Anglican Church has arrived with pews and needs work.

They eventually found the old St. John’s Anglican Church in York, a small community along the Grand River. The 1,800 square foot church was built in 1891 and sat vacant for 13 years before being purchased in June.

Tao is working on the renovation and the church needs work. There is a lot of mold and the bell tower was almost falling. They want to keep the main sanctuary intact with as many of its original features as possible, including the stained glass windows, so they are putting in additions for the family rooms.

They post their renovation journey on Instagram.

Currently, the family lives in a rental townhouse in Toronto and hopes to have the work completed by the summer so they can move in before school starts in the fall.

Along with all the renovations, the church also comes with York Cemetery, which was established over 200 years ago and needs to be maintained. It was a two-for-one deal that might have discouraged many people from buying the church.

“We had to buy both, as if we couldn’t have chosen one,” says Andresa.

The Bereavement Authority of Ontario had to approve the purchase.

“It was a very steep learning curve for us,” she adds.

And they are now responsible for looking after the cemetery, which still has plots available for sale. The cemetery is behind the church but not too close.

“We become the guardians of the cemetery, and it’s kind of an honor because a cemetery should remain a cemetery as long as Canada remains Canada,” Tao says.

Caring for the cemetery is worth it to place the church in the beautiful spot by the river on an acre of land, he says.

Plus, at $375,000, the price was way below anything in Toronto.

“That’s also why we were looking further afield – we have four giant kids… So we just couldn’t adapt to the city and we couldn’t afford to buy in town.”

In addition to making it the family home, the couple owns the church they have always wanted.

“It was just always a dream, the calm, the quality and the way they were built,” says Tao. “They are built to be special.”


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