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St. Augustine’s, Parliament Street

A key source for this project is a volume of John Ross Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto. Robertson (1841-1918) was a Toronto journalist and politician who chronicled the architecture and life of nineteenth century Toronto. His work, more than any other, gives insight into the buildings and congregations which, together, made Toronto a “city of churches”.

In his Landmarks of Toronto volume, Robertson chronicles all of the Anglican churches, before moving on to the Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Congregationalists, and so on. And the last Anglican church profiled, St. Augustine’s on Parliament Street, has this tag line: A building which is no Longer in Possession of the Anglican Body.

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The first service at St. Augustine’s (located on the north-east corner of Parliament and Spruce Streets) was held on November 11th, 1888, under the leadership of the rector of nearby St. Bartholomew’s.

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From the beginning, St. Augustine’s suffered from the burden of debt and a lack of parishioners to carry it. Just four years later, in 1892, the holder of the mortgage foreclosed on the parish and the church was closed. For the next decade, the building was used for other purposes until, in 1903, $7000 was raised to purchase the building and, after renovations to restore it as a liturgical space, St. Augustine’s was resurrected.

This photograph, taken in 1903, shows the interior. Notice the six candles on the altar, a reflection of the high church tradition of the parish, under the leadership of the Reverend Frederick George Plummer.

augustine interior 1903

Fr. Plummer was assisted by the Reverend Derwyn Owen, who would go on to become the sixth Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. I’ve come across Fr. Plummer before, in researching  my article “The St. Thomas’s Sound” in Household of God: A Parish History of St. Thomas’s Church, Toronto. Originally connected with Holy Trinity Church and then St. Matthias’ Church, the Irish-born Plummer came to St. Thomas’s in 1895, where he served as both assistant curate and organist and choirmaster.  He left St. Thomas’s in 1902, owing both to health problems and conflicts with the vicar. (Plummer also served as a member of the hymn compilation committee for the 1909 Book of Common Praise, the first hymn book compiled for the Church of England in Canada. One of Plummer’s tunes is published in its 1938 successor hymn book.)

In fact, there were a number of connections between St. Augustine’s in its second incarnation and St. Thomas’s. In 1905, Fr. Plummer’s assistant Fr. Edward Ley King came to St. Thomas’s as vicar. (The following year, Fr. King was killed in a railway accident near Salisbury). In 1906, Fr. Harold McCausland, who had assisted at St. Thomas’s, moved to St. Augustine’s. And Thomas A. Reed, who had assisted Plummer as organist at St. Thomas’, later was the organist of St. Augustine’s.

In its second incarnation, St. Augustine’s was entirely more successful. Over time the parish purchased two neighbouring houses to the east on Spruce Street, using one for a parish house and the other for a rectory. A south aisle was added to the building in 1904.

In the 1920s, there was talk of amalgamating St. Bartholomew’s (located just a few blocks south) into St. Augustine’s. Nothing came of these plans, perhaps because of a lack of agreement over the disposition of the proceeds from the sale of St. Bart’s. Fr. Plummer, who would soon leave the parish owing to health problems, made the argument that the proceeds should come to St. Augustine’s.  “When Grace Church Elm St. moved to the Hill – the new parish – in a well to do district – got part of the proceeds. One would imagine that if Grace Church needed the money on the Hill – St. Aug. in the East will need money still more.” (As it happens, when Plummer left St. Augustine’s, he landed at St. Bart’s, where he was responsible for the music until his death in 1929.)

On the evening of March 26th, 1931, the rector J. T. Robbins and his wife looked out the rectory window and discovered the church was on fire. The fire, which had started in the furnace, destroyed the church building and also damaged the rectory and parish house.

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There doesn’t seem to have been much, if any, consideration given to rebuilding, perhaps because St. Bart’s was located nearby. Instead, the vestry voted to disestablish the parish. There was talk of amalgamating it with Calvary Church to become the parish of Calvary & St. Augustine’s. (This seems an odd choice given Calvary’s location in the west end of the city.)  In the end, the parish was disestablished and the proceeds split between St. Bart’s, St. John’s, Portland Street, St. Simon’s and Calvary Church.

St. Augustine’s didn’t fade away without some expressed unhappiness with the lost of its high church tradition. The January 1932 minutes of the vestry, a meeting held before the parish was officially disestablished, bemoans the fact that the two nearest churches to celebrate holy communion every Sunday are Holy Trinity and St. Thomas’, and both were too far away for St. Augustine’s parishioners to attend. The motion went on to say “Morning Prayer, a service of monastic origin, will now in practice, if not in theory, be the only service attended by the great majority of the people of the district. Surely a change from the practice of the early church, and we wonder why the Church of Rome progresses.”  (I’m puzzled, though, by this sentiment, given that by this time St. Bart’s was a decidedly anglo-catholic parish under the leadership of Fr. Charles Frederick Pashler. Perhaps St. Bart’s was a liturgical bridge too far for the more moderate tastes of St. Augustine’s folk.)

Today, the corner where St. Augustine’s stood is a No Frills supermarket. The houses which the parish owned (6 and 8 Spruce Street) also no longer exist.

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In 1946, a new parish began on Bayview Avenue, and it took the name St. Augustine of Canterbury.

 

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