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What will the future entail for Falstaff Family Centre?

The anchor tenant of the centre, the EarlyON program provided by Perth Care For Kids, is leaving after more than 20 years of operations on the main floor
Loreena McKennitt, owner of the Falstaff Family Centre, inside the heritage building.

With the future of the Falstaff Family Centre uncertain, owner Loreena McKennitt believes now is a good time to evaluate its value to the community. 

In September, it was announced that the anchor tenant at the centre, the EarlyON program provided by Perth Care For Kids, is leaving after more than 20 years of operations on the main floor. 

Without them, McKennitt decided that now was a good time to take a look at the historic property and its community value. 

“I just felt like with them leaving that space, it's probably good that we reaffirm what this property should be – and there might be a stronger and even more viable rendering of it.”

The family centre subsequently announced that they will be hosting public consultations on its future, with the first one scheduled for Tuesday. 

Those discussions take time and McKennit estimated that it might be around five years from now when they will actually make a decision, or feel the pressure to make a decision. 

McKennitt reasoned that she wants to do everything she can in a timely fashion to preserve the building, the property, and enhance the chances of it continuing as a service hub for area children and families.  

“This is private property,” McKennitt explained. “At the same time, I've always felt I was a temporary custodian of it and that it is such a special property … it deserves to be discussed.”

McKennitt bought the property in 2000, after it hit the auction block when deemed surplus by the Avon Maitland District School Board. With an eye to preserving the building and grounds, McKennitt invested into the infrastructure, getting the building up to code while still respecting its heritage value. 

The centre currently hosts the Stratford Middle Years School and the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron, as permanent tenants. 

Over the years it has hosted Family Services Perth Huron, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Foundations Program, the Literacy Network, Kindermusik, Snoezelen Room, as well as seasonal arts groups. 

In recent years, the centre's staff has worked closely alongside the Indigenous community to establish a medicine wheel garden and host various Indigenous-led community activities, including Truth & Reconciliation Day events. 

Now reconsidering its future, McKennnitt does not know what it will look like, though there are things she expects. 

She does not anticipate the need to sell the building, at least initially. She also believes, because of the purpose it has served in the past, that the building is best suited for childcare. 

The public meeting is scheduled for Dec. 5 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the centre. Additional meetings and consultations will follow in the months ahead. 

The Falstaff Family Centre. Connor Luczka/StratfordToday

The Future of EarlyON

"It has been a real pleasure to serve families attending our EarlyON programs at the Falstaff Family Centre since 2002,” said Perth Care For Kids Executive Director Jean Ann Goll in a recent media release announcing their departure from Falstaff. “It was an incredible journey and we could not have done it without Ms. McKennitt and the Falstaff Family Centre."

The City of Stratford’s social services department announced that as of the new year there will be service delivery changes to the EarlyOn program, namely that the YMCA of Three Rivers will be providing the service in Stratford, taking over from Perth Care For Kids, which has provided that service since 2002. 

Perth Care For Kids will still provide EarlyON out of the municipalities of West Perth, Perth East, and Perth South. 

The YMCA will provide the EarlyON program for the next three years (to the end of 2026). Two additional one-year extensions, for a maximum of five years, will be available under the current guidelines, a letter from the social services department noted.

Shaminda Attygalle, vice president of marketing and communications at the YMCA, said that starting in January programs will be offered out of two locations: the Stratford YMCA located at 204 Downie St. and the Stratford Education and Recreation Centre (SERC) located at 220 Oakdale Avenue. 

The YMCA plans to offer a mix of in-person and online programs, continuing to offer play & learn, baby time, infant massage, baby connections, and more. 

More information and the January program calendar will be ready to view in a few weeks, Attygale indicated. If parents are interested or want to know more, they can email the YMCA at [email protected]

In the September announcement, the social services department indicated that there will be a transition of services and they will be assisting in making the changeover smooth for all parties involved. 

A representative of the social services department was contacted for comment, though did not respond as of publication.