A Public Justice House of Our Own

There was a lot of excitement here at CPJ in February. For the first time in our history, we made a historic move to a home of our own.

I arrived at CPJ in June 2010 to take up duties of finance and administration. At the time, CPJ was just beginning to recover from the financial downturn and a burden of debt. Our wonderful supporters and members stepped up then so we could carry on with the mission of justice. I was aware then of the high costs of rental in the Ottawa core — close to Parliament — where we wanted to be and thought that long-term, buying our own place would be ideal. It would lower our occupancy costs, give us some control over building related environmental care, and free up more resources to support key work on refugee rights, ending poverty, and promoting climate justice.

Under Joe Gunn’s leadership, we launched a five-year campaign in 2013 called “Building Public Justice Together” and began the serious work of saving toward the dream of a “home of our own.” It was hard slogging. At the end of the campaign we had grown our programs but did not have enough to contemplate buying a building. We agreed as an organization that the generous bequests which came year-by-year would be put into a reserve fund, some of which could be used for house purchase. But it was still not enough.

Then, in 2016 The Sisters of Saint Ann made a truly wonderful endowment to CPJ in the amount of $500,000, the interest of which was to be used to support our program work.

In 2019, now under the leadership of our new Executive Director Willard Metzger, we sought out a possible property that we could own, not rent.

The dream of our own house is now a reality thanks to so many supporters and donors who have made it all possible.

Once we had found a heritage building near our current offices, the quest for funds began in earnest. We approached the Sisters of Saint Ann to explore whether we might borrow money from the endowment to be repaid within ten years. Our long-term goals were aligned — releasing more financial resources to support CPJ’s mission and program. Purchasing a property would mean both rental income and lower office costs to help use accomplish this. And so, an agreement was struck.

Over the Christmas season, we also made an appeal to our membership to support the purchase of our own home. We received multiple special gifts and a strong response from many members across Canada. Thanks be to God.

With this financial support, negotiations for the MacLaren property proceeded. On January 27, 2020, the property at 334 MacLaren Street in downtown Ottawa became ours!

That dream of our own house is now a reality thanks to so many supporters and donors who have made it all possible.

If we can continue to find support to pay down various expenses and our mortgage quickly, we will be in an excellent position going forward.

When dreams become reality, reality also pays us a visit. We have painted our new offices, found office movers, and contracted snow plowing services. We are also blessed to have Walter Neutel, a CPJ member and retired archivist, to help us negotiate a home for our CPJ historical archives so we do not let them languish in our new basement.

One moment of considerable drama arose when we found that the previous insurance agent was pulling out of support for heritage buildings. We found this to be true of every insurance supplier we could find. With just hours to spare before we needed to purchase insurance to meet our offer agreements, we were accepted by Ecclesiastical Insurance, a provider to many older churches across Canada and in England. Our agent had simply never heard of them!

In the coming years, we hope to explore the feasibility of installing solar panels on the roof. At the very least we now control our own thermostat.

Do come and visit us if you are ever in Ottawa. We’ll put on the coffee.

It’s not too late to support CPJ’s purchase of a house. To make your contribution, please go to cpj.ca/donate and select “House Fund” when you donate.

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  • David Pollock is the coordinator of finance and administration at CPJ.

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