St. Barnabas, Halton

In 1873, two years before St. Philip’s, Spadina was established, the parish of St. Matthias, Bellwoods was founded, located on Bellwoods Avenue, just north of Queen Street, west of Bathurst. Expanding to the west, the city came to meet the town of Brockton (an area delineated by what is now Dufferin, Queen, High Park and Bloor). The Anglican parish in Brockton was St. Anne’s, founded in 1862 and located on what today is Dufferin Avenue. (This parish is known now as St Anne’s, Gladstone, and renowned for its Group of Seven murals and distinctive Byzantine architecture in its current 1908 building.)

With the establishment of new suburbs came the need for new parishes to be carved out of old parish boundaries. Thus, in 1885, with the full agreement of the clergy and congregations, a new parish was established out of the western portion of St. Matthias parish and the eastern portion of St. Anne’s. This is what became known as St. Barnabas, Halton, located at Halton and Givins Streets (just south-east of Dundas and Ossington). 

The congregation initially met in a building on Grove Avenue. The Sunday School soon rented space from a nearby Reformed Episcopal Church. The first St. Barnabas building was opened in 1887. The list of those who contributed to the building fund speaks of the prominent place of the Anglican Church in late ninteenth century society. Donors included Oliver Mowat (Premier of Ontario), and members of prominent Toronto families including George Gooderham and Joseph Cawthra. Also contributing was John Charles Roper, professor at Trinity College and later vicar of St. Thomas’s, Huron Street and Bishop of Ottawa. It would seem that at its founding, St. Barnabas was of the high church tradition. The new building was opened on St. Barnabas Day, 1887 by Bishop Sweatman and the service was “intoned in the Gregorian style”.


By 1910 the building no longer was large enough and an addition was undertaken to add a chancel, trancepts, a tower and basement. The addition was designed by architect A. R. Denison, who also designed St. Philip’s, Spadina. Upon completion, the church could now seat 700. (Picture to come.)

In its early years, St. Barnabas was a middle-class suburban parish with a Sunday School of upwards of two hundred students. John Ross Robertson offers a commentary on the church-going norms of the time: “The church is fairly filled at the morning service, but the evening service is largely attended. In this respect St. Barnabas follows the general church custom of this city. There is probably no church in the city that is, strictly speaking, filled in the morning, and there are comparatively few that are not filled in the evening. In the Roman Catholic churches the rule is reversed: all the morning masses are attended by crowded congregations, while the vesper service is not so largely attended.”

By the middle of the twentieth century the neighbourhood around St. Barnabas was very different, populated by groups who had immigrated from other countries and who were not Anglican. By the late 1960’s the building was in significant disrepair and the congregation numbered roughly 150. They were working class people, many from the West Indies, who became aware that sinking money into keeping “this big ship” going did not make sense. At the same time, the parish was deeply involved in ministry in its community, particularly with the nearby mental health hospital on Queen Street. In the 1960’s St. Barnabas was cooperating with nearby Wesley United Church to establish programs to support people in need in the neighbourhood. Reports at the time indicate that about ninety percent of the parishioners lived in the parish. This was somewhat atypical for parishes in a similar situation. In many if not most cases, parishes whose surrounding demographics had shifted were populated by people who no longer lived in the parish, but still commuted back to their home or family church. I suspect that the fact that St. Barnabas was so engaged in its community was a result of most of its parishioners still living within the parish boundaries.

In 1969, Fr. Jack Roberts (the priest-in-charge of St. Matthias’) was asked by Bishop George Snell to add St. Barnabas to his responsibilities. (St. Barnabas was Bishop Snell’s childhood parish. He had been a Sunday school pupil, teacher, chorister, president of the Anglican Young People’s Association, and had also assisted the rector in liturgical duties.) Because of the deteriorating state of the building, and enabled by the cooperation already established with Wesley United Church, the decision was taken to sell the building, and for St. Barnabas to rent space at Wesley United Church. In June of 1970, the final service was held in the St. Barnabas building and a procession then made its way to Wesley United, on the north-west corner of Dundas and Ossington.  The archdeacon of York commended the parish for “the adventurous and responsible way in which they have accepted this challenge to St. Barnabas’ history. The parish is standing with its feet in two worlds — living in the past with its great history of fellowship and service; but also standing in ‘another world’ of future service, ministry, fellowship and hope.” Bishop Snell, who had been unsure whether he’d make it to the last service, walked in the procession and was reported to have been moved by the occasion. For him, the decision to share space with the local United congregation had even more significance; one of his grandfathers had been a member of the first Wesley Methodist Church.

Under the new arrangement, the Anglican and United congregations held separate Sunday services, but often came together for joint services and continued to work together cooperatively in outreach. The building they occupied together had been built in 1960 after the old Wesley United burned down. Two changes were made to the premises to accommodate the new tenants– the name of St. Barnabas Anglican Church was added to the sign, and kneelers were added to the worship space! 

In the end, St. Barnabas survived for only another year. After Fr. Roberts left in 1971, the parish was disestablished and its parishioners dispersed to other places. The original St. Barnabas building, which had been sold to the Church of God, has since been torn down and replaced by housing. 

As for Wesley United Church, in 1983 it merged with Grace-Carmen United Church to form Wesley-Grace-Carmen United Church. In 1988, it merged with Westmoreland United Church and Centennial United Church to form Westennial United Church. That congregation survived until 1997 and today the building is St. Christopher House, at Dundas and Ossington, a non-sectarian social service agency serving the west end of Toronto.

(A personal postscript: Research on St. Barnabas put me back in touch with Jack Roberts, now retired. Jack and Mary attended St. Thomas’, Brooklin for a time. We first met them when he was, in his retirement, priest-in-charge of the Anglican Church in Buckhorn, where we sometimes go to church in the summer. Jack has fond and vibrant memories of these few years at St. Barnabas, and speaks warmly of the people and their commitment to the community.)

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