Windemere Road elevation (Windsorite News)
01 . 10 . 2016

Part of St. Barnabas Church starts new life as art gallery

AUTHOR Craig Pearson

The modernist St. Barnabas Church — less than a year ago facing possible demolition — is now born again.

At least part of it, anyway, will have a new lease on life as the Windermere Art Gallery, thanks to a couple of Toronto-area entrepreneurs.

Gordon Leatherdale, who bought the property from the Anglican Diocese, and his tenant Michael Jaensch, who opened the gallery and framing store with a soft launch days before Christmas, see potential beyond pews.

“It’s great,” Jaensch said Friday of the 1,400-square-foot space with vaulted ceiling and pointed yellow-glass windows. “I really like the space. I think it’s conducive to what I do.”

The site actually consists of three buildings: the main 1955 church, a smaller 1939 church, and a neighbouring residence. Leatherdale has yet to move to town or decide what to do with the heritage-designated largely white, contemporary style edifice with narrow stained-glass windows and a slender square steeple adorning the western end.

 “We hope to have something fairly significant in that space,” he said, noting that his new business could take up to a year to open but that his girlfriend just landed a job in Windsor. “We’re fully committed to Windsor.”

Jaensch, meanwhile, is already living in the residence and operating an art gallery — something he has done for 25 years.

“Out of all the galleries I have had, this is the nicest layout yet,” said Jaensch, noting that the sitting area and church touches provide a particularly pleasant gallery setting. “It just adds to the ambiance over all. It gives an older look. It’s nice.”

In March, city council denied a demolition permit to the Anglican Diocese of Huron — which had tried to sell the buildings for three or four years, originally asking in the high $400,000 range — encouraging the church to look for other ways to dispose of the property.

Then a miracle occurred in the form of Leatherdale and Jaensch. But why would two businessmen leave Ajax for Windsor?

“He and I had been looking for decommissioned schools and churches the last couple of years,” Jaensch said. “And this one just fit the bill. The location is ideal. And we wanted to make a change. He has some ideas of what he wants to do with the larger building though he hasn’t decided yet.

“But I knew I wanted to open an art gallery.”

Jaensch offers mostly limited-edition prints, plus a few originals and custom framing.

Jaensch’s artistic journey to Windsor seems even more remarkable when you consider he was born in Berlin, moved to Toronto with his family at age four, and was never much of an artist. He started in the heating and cooling business, but soon found himself collecting art — and realizing where his passion lay.

His first gallery burned down. But he was back in business within two months and never looked back.

But picking up and leaving town at age 55 and moving to a city where you know nobody is a whole other type of adventure.

“Business-wise, time will tell,” Jaensch said. “But so far I’m quite enjoying it. I’m having people coming in. And everyone has been nice and friendly.”

Windermere Art Gallery

2120 Windermere Rd., open Wednesday through Sunday. Call 226-773-3166.

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