Up Close: Leanne Moussa chooses projects that reshape neighbourhoods

Leanne Moussa

You can take the girl out of the business, but you can’t take the business out of the girl.

Twenty-three years ago, Leanne Moussa moved to our nation’s capital to work on Parliament Hill instead of joining the family business in her home province of Alberta.

“I wanted to carve my own path,” said Moussa, who earned a degree in political science at the University of Alberta. “I wasn’t really interested in going into business.

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“But, look at this?” she added before bursting into laughter at the irony of her current situation.

Moussa, 48, is the president and founder of All Saints Developments Inc. It’s the community-led, privately held corporation that bought the century-old All Saints Anglican Church and turned it into a gathering place for local residents. It’s now called allsaints.

The property, located in the mixed urban neighbourhood of Sandy Hill, offers venue spaces to host weddings and other celebrations as well as corporate events. It also operates Working Title Kitchen, which includes a bakery, restaurant and outdoor patio.

allsaints is an example of how the adaptive reuse of heritage spaces can breathe new life into empty historic structures and rejuvenate aging neighbourhoods, Moussa argues. 

“Taking a space such as a church and making it secular, while still maintaining that community feel is, really, what we set out to do,” said Moussa in an interview at allsaints, located at 330 Laurier Ave. E. at the southeast corner of Chapel Street. 

The original group of investors bought the property in 2016 for $1.52 million. The ownership group was half Ottawa residents and half business investors, primarily Moussa’s family from Alberta, who took a leap of faith in order to preserve the heritage building. 

“The emphasis was really to give people a voice in redevelopment of a site that they cared about. That was the goal,” she said.

As the risk profile of the project changed during COVID, the business investors bought out the neighbourhood investors but remained committed to maintaining the original vision laid out by the larger group, said Moussa. 

Plans are now underway to build a nine-storey condo building on the property, with construction starting as early as 2024. allsaints is working with two respected Ottawa companies with experience in church redevelopments: green developer Windmill Developments and architecture/design firm Linebox Studio. The application and review process has gone “very smoothly so far,” said Moussa.

“I’m really excited about the next few years.”

The married mother of four expressed pride in seeing the project move forward in a way that meets the public’s expectations and concerns. “What I like is that it’s allowed me to bring people together around redevelopment. So often, neighbours and developers are at odds. My goal was to give people a vehicle to shape their own community.”

To date, All Saints Development has invested $2 million into restoring the former church. “That’s just scratching the surface. There’s a lot of work left to do on this building but I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done so far.”

All Saints Church dates back to 1900. That’s when Sir Henry Newell Bate, a wealthy industrialist and first chair of what is now known as the National Capital Commission, funded the construction of the Gothic Revival-style church.

Parishioners included former prime minister Robert Borden and Olympic figure skating champion Barbara Ann Scott. The royal wedding of Lois Booth to Prince Erik of Denmark in 1924 was at All Saints. So was Borden’s state funeral in 1937.

All Saints was “a defining architectural building in the nation’s capital” when it was first built, said Moussa. However, it was headed toward demolition “by neglect” by the time it was put up for sale, she said. “For someone to invest the kind of money needed to restore it, they’d have to be interested in more than just the bottom line.”

And Moussa was. She was driven by her natural interest in how people are able to come together to effect change. It was an area she focused on while earning her master’s in political science at Carleton University (she completed her degree over the course of her maternity leaves, when she was working as a public servant).

She first put the “people power” movement to the test in 2014, when she led a community initiative to purchase an old carriage house in Sandy Hill. She created a corporation with shares held by more than 20 neighbours. Moussa rezoned the property so that it could be used for much-needed child care. It’s now owned by Andrew Fleck Child Care Services.

“I’m happy every time I walk by and see kids playing out there,” said the Sandy Hill resident. “We have secured child care for generations here, and that is exactly what we set out to do.”

For Moussa, allsaints and the carriage house transformation are just the beginning. “I’m hoping to continue taking on projects in Ottawa to help shape neighbourhoods.”

Five Things to Know about Leanne Moussa

  1. She recently helped the Catholic diocese set up a new café at Notre Dame Basilica on Sussex Drive. “It’s a beautiful little space. I think, overtime, it will grow into a tourist destination.”
  2. She’s not looking to buy St. Brigid’s, a repurposed church on St. Patrick Street that’s currently for sale, but she does have some ideas for the property. “I think that the redevelopment of St. Brigid’s has to be part of a larger, coherent plan in the ByWard Market and I don’t think we’re there yet.”
  3. She’s proud of her Lebanese heritage. Her immigrant father and his four brothers worked hard to build their real estate group of companies from scratch in Wetaskiwin, south of Edmonton. She learned “a ton” while working for them when she was growing up.
  4. Her father and uncles also taught her that “they’re stronger together than they are apart,” having maintained a 50-year partnership in business.
  5. She worked on Parliament Hill for the late Julian Reed (Liberal MP for Halton) and former Liberal cabinet minister Pierre Pettigrew.

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