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Falstaff Family Centre
future uncertain

Anchor tenant EarlyON program gone Jan. 1, 2024


STRATFORD, Ont. – In 2000, the fate of what was then Falstaff Public School was in question when it hit the auction block after being deemed surplus by the Avon Maitland District School Board. The future of the building is now in question again.


On Nov. 8, 2000, Canadian singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt bought the 1929 neo-Gothic building out from under developers, with an eye to preserving it for the community while respecting its heritage value. With the help of a small group of local residents, public consultations were quickly organized and the building was soon renamed the Falstaff Family Centre (FFC), with a primary focus on children and families.


Looking to the future, Ms. McKennitt has promised the community she would make every effort to provide as much lead time as possible to determine what comes next. With this in mind, she believes now is the time to start those discussions with a briefing session on Tuesday Dec. 5 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the FFC, which will be followed in the months ahead with additional meetings and consultations under the banner The Future of the FFC – The Discussion Begins.


“Without question, the cancellation of the EarlyON program at the FFC has been a catalyst to this decision to move forward with public consultation,” she explains.


For over 20 years, the EarlyON program operated at the FFC as its anchor tenant. (It was formerly called the Early Years program.) EarlyON, administrated by Perth Care for Kids, served children from birth to age six, connecting kids, parents and caregivers through a variety of activities. Over 22,000 children have come through the doors of the FFC since it opened.


As of Jan. 1, 2024 Perth Care for Kids will no longer be operating the EarlyON program at the FFC since their contract with Stratford’s Social Services to provide the program has not been renewed. The YMCA of Three Rivers has been announced as the new operator for the EarlyON programs in Stratford in the New Year.  Plans are underway for these EarlyON programs and it is hoped that details will be coming soon.  


"It has been a real pleasure to serve families attending our EarlyON programs at the Falstaff Family Centre since 2002,” says Perth Care for Kids Executive Director Jean Ann Goll. “It has been the perfect setting and facility for our EarlyON programs with the beautiful green space, ample parking, warm, safe and welcoming indoor space and with a great deal of community spirit that many called their home. It was an incredible journey and we could not have done it without Ms. McKennitt and the Falstaff Family Centre."      


In a Canadian Living magazine story in May 2004 about Ms. McKennitt and the FFC, she said she felt “responsible for helping to guide it back into the community’s hands”.  Recognizing its intrinsic heritage value and the fact that generations of Stratford residents had a deep-seated connection to the building, she has since spent considerable sums of her own money upgrading the building to code, as well as covering significant annual operating expenses.


The magazine story also quoted the Heritage Canada Foundation, which reported Canada lost almost a quarter of its historic buildings between 1970 and 2000.


“I have felt a tremendous responsibility to the community, the individuals and the organizations who continue to call Falstaff their home and to ensure that whenever there is a transition, their interests will be front and centre,” says Ms. McKennitt, owner and director of the FFC. “This is a significant heritage property and one which provides many uses for the neighbourhood. I hope that through a thorough community consultation, its next iteration will see a continuance of service to children and families of all kinds.”


The FFC currently hosts the Stratford Middle Years School and The Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron as permanent tenants. Over the years it has hosted many other tenants, including 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 FFC 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.


“In the immediate sense, we now need to decide what to do going forward,” says Ms. McKennitt. “And the public consultations need to begin as soon as possible. What should this building become? Can we keep it child and family focused or will this be the time when developers make the call?”






The Falstaff Family Centre


Phone: 519-273-3876

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