'We're going to lose this place': Concerns raised as historic Chapel of Hope targeted by vandals, scavengers
Published Wednesday, April 14, 2021 5:56PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, April 14, 2021 6:09PM EDT
LONDON, ONT. -- Famous for its picturesque beauty, and often a popular spot for weddings, there are now concerns that the historic Chapel of Hope on the grounds of the former London psychiatric hospital is in danger of falling apart.
“And if that’s left to go, we’re going to lose this place very very soon,” said Joe O’Neil as he walked around the property tallying up the most recent damage.
The vice president of the London chapter of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario said looting is taking place at the chapel, following a suspicious fire at the site last Thursday.
“When I came out on Sunday, the peak, the window at the back, just the plywood was missing across the top. And I was worried that the elements, the animals were going to get in, says O'Neil.
"So I came back on Tuesday and I noticed that the entire back window had been ripped out. And there’s plywood and other chairs piled there, so people are coming in. And I found items, including broken stained glass, so people are obviously going in and stripping the place and coming out with it.”
Obvious signs of damage also include a smashed out window, a missing heritage plaque that appears to have been snapped off of its post, there is garbage and debris strewn about the lawn and garden, and there is a newly marked swastika on the building, which O’Neil said was not there a day earlier.
Vandalism at former Chapel of Hope in London, Ont. on April 14, 2021. (Bryan Bicknell/CTV London)
O’Neil pointed out that one of the things that makes the chapel historically significant is that it was built in 1884 by people who were then referred to as inmates of the insane asylum.
The hospital was closed in 2014. The sprawling property, with its many buildings, has since become the target of scavengers and thrill seekers. On this day, a man could be seen removing materials from one of the buildings, dumping them into a large drum, then casually strolling away from the site with the items.
Area resident Larry, who was out for a walk with his dog, said he often sees signs of life on the premises.
“We’ve seen all kinds of people roaming around and living on the balconies, and kinda making it their home I guess.”
The site, owned by Old Oak Properties, is slated for residential development. Old Oak President and CEO Greg Bierbaum told CTV News the property has been secured, but continues to be broken into.
“It’s very frustrating. We’ve regularly come into contact with people with serious drug and mental illness issues scavenging for copper pipes, anything they can turn into cash.”
A statement from London’s chief bylaw enforcement officer, Orest Katolyk, states:
“The City has issued a Vacant Building By-law Order to the property owner requiring on-site security guard presence to address buildings not being secured against unauthorized access attracting vandalism and creating various safety hazards.”
In the meantime, Joe O’Neil said he would like to see the chapel properly sealed, and the inside surveyed for damage.
“See not only what’s been stolen and damaged and catalogued, but also, I think we need somebody to take a good look to see exactly how much fire damage has been done because... does this thing need shoring up before it falls down under its own weight?”