Church of the Epiphany, Queen Street

In the story of the development of Anglican parishes in the west end of Toronto, many roads lead back to the parish of St. Anne’s, Brockton (now St. Anne’s, Gladstone). In 1876 (before St. Barnabas, Halton was carved out of the parishes of St. Anne’s and St. Matthias’), the mission parish of St. Mark’s was established. This parish, located to the south and slightly to the west of St. Anne’s on Cowan Avenue (just south of Queen) is what is known today as the Church of the Epiphany & St. Mark, Parkdale. 

A decade later, in 1887, a new parish was carved out of St. Mark’s — the Church of the Epiphany. (This makes Epiphany a grand-daughter parish of St. Anne’s.)  The new parish, located just half a mile west of St. Mark’s, was created (at least in part) in response to residential growth in the village of Parkdale, which had recently been annexed by the city of Toronto. Epiphany’s first parishioners were from St. Mark’s, and their first meeting place was the Parkdale Masonic Hall (located at Queen and Dowling in a building which, I believe, still exists and is now apartments). The next year, in September 1888, the first Church of the Epiphany was opened on a lot on the south-west corner of Queen Street and Beaty Avenue (west of Lansdowne), only half a mile away from its mother church, St. Mark’s.

The first building was not intended to be the long-term building used for worship, but rather was to be converted to Sunday school use after funds could be raised for a larger building. It sat 300 and was “an exceedingly plain building both in its exterior and interior.”  The architects were Strickland and Symons of Aberdeen Chambers, Toronto.

The original Church of the Epiphany still exists, and is now used as a parish school. Only its north facade can be easily seen as it is hemmed in on all other sides by housing and the rest of the church buildings.

It seems that, from the beginning, Epiphany was a decidedly low-church parish (and certainly lower in churchmanship than its mother parish of St. Mark’s, which had a surpliced choir of men and boys, and whose “service in the morning is monotone and in the evening full choral”). Indeed, a historical sketch written at the time of the parish’s 70th anniversary states that there was a second motive in the minds of its founders, beyond the need for a new parish to serve a growing population Their other motive was to establish a parish “in sympathy with the movement towards a more evangelical and protestant Anglicanism which had culminated 10 years before in the establishment of Wycliffe College to train men for the evangelical ministry. Now they sought to establish a parish in the city’s west end which would uphold these principles.” 

This connection with Wycliffe College was to be seen at several points throughout its history. The parish’s first rector, the Reverend Bernard Bryan, was the first graduate of Wycliffe College to take holy orders. The Reverend Dyson Hague was vicar of Epiphany from 1911, becoming rector from 1918 to 1933. Hague is one of the notable figures in Canadian evangelical circles of the first half of the twentieth century. He had been rector of the well-known evangelical parishes of St. Paul’s, Halifax and Bishop Cronyn Memorial in London, Ontario, and was sometime professor at Wycliffe College. A later rector was the Reverend Leslie Hunt, who left Epiphany in 1959 to become Principal of Wycliffe College. 

By 1910, the parish was strong enough to build its intended larger space, in order “to meet the future needs of a rapidly-growing district.” The corner stone was laid in 1910 and the parish moved into its new space on 31 March 1911. This building, with a seating capacity of 1000 or more, exists today. It was designed by Henry Bauld Gordon, who also was the architect of Church of the Messiah, Toronto and the parish hall at St. Anne’s, Gladstone. (A tower was part of the architectural design but never built; picture to come.) In the photograph below, part of the north facade of the original church is visible on the right-hand side.

There was one more chapter in the history of Epiphany buildings with the addition of a parish hall in 1930. This space is also now used as part of the parish school. Its east facade is visible from Beaty Avenue.

The history of the parish reflects the changing demographics of the neighbourhood. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the neighbourhood was teeming with church-going Anglicans, enough to establish a massive new building such a short distance from St. Mark’s. By mid-century, there appears to be the signs of, or at least concern about, decline. One undated flyer I came across in the diocesan archives (probably from the mid 1950s) contains this rather direct call for church attendance:

“COME TO CHURCH — REGULARLY:  For more than sixty years the Church of the Epiphany has stood in Parkdale for the things of God and the sincere preaching of the Gospel of Christ. Its message and influence are needed more than ever before. Are you a REGULAR WORSHIPPER at Divine Service. You need the church in these days, and your example to the community is very important. Consistent absence from church is your vote to close it up. Come yourself and bring others. We are deely concerned about the children and young people of the community. We must help them become Christians. We are doing all we can to direct them. We have facilities for all ages. Will you help us help them by coming to Church yourselves and bringing the members of your household?”

By the 1960s, with demographic changes in the neighbourhood and societal changes at play, Epiphany seemed determined to survive. A type-written document entitled “Epiphany Serves Parkdale” admits that, while many churches in the area are closing, “the Epiphany looks forward to carrying on its Christian witness for years to come. Centrally located on Queen Street, in attractive and well-maintained buildings, the Church of the Epiphany is seeking new avenues of ministry to the spiritual needs of the community.” It goes on to say that many parishioners no longer live in the parish but continue to return to keep the parish going and active. In the 1970’s there were conversations about amalgamation with its mother church, St. Mark’s, and St. Judes’ on Roncesvalles.

By the early 1980’s the parish community was small and the massive buildings in need of substantial repairs. On Palm Sunday 1983 (29 years ago today, by the liturgical calendar) the Church of the Epiphany held its final service. A decision was taken (one not without controversy, even reaching the pages of the Toronto Star in the religion column of Tom Harpur — a former Wycliffe professor!) to sell the building and amalgamate Epiphany back into its mother parish of St. Mark’s. The funds from the sale were used to refurbish the buildings and the new, amalgamated parish of Epipany & St. Mark’s was born, 96 years after St. Mark’s had given birth to the Church of the Epiphany.

The buildings were sold for $550,000 to a Maronite Christian congregation, and began their new life as Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church. Below are pictures of the interior and exterior of the church today. What is particularly notable is how all of the memorial plaques from the building’s days as an Anglican parish have been preserved, and now find their place among other features of the liturgical life and spirituality of the Christians who now worship in this space.

(A personal note: Many years ago I’d been inside the building and had remembered that the Anglican memorials had been preserved. During a recent visit to see the building again, I was warmly greeted and shown exceptional friendliness and hospitality by the parish administrator, Maha, and by its pastor, Fr. Maroun Abou-Jaoude. In our conversation over coffee in the basement, I learned more about the traditions of Maronite Christians, who are Eastern rite Christians in communion with the see of Rome. In turn, I was able to speak with Fr. Maroun about the difference between ‘low church’ and ‘high church’ Anglicans and say something about the particular tradition of the Church of the Epiphany. Our visit turned out to be an unexpected pleasure in this little history project.)

The altar looks as if it dates from the Epiphany days.

A confessional at the back — certainly not a feature in the days when the building was the Church of the Epiphany!

East wall, showing memorial plaques and windows from the building’s Anglican days coupled with stations of the Cross.

Chapel in the west aisle. The pipe organ is in place and is used on Sunday mornings.

A plaque to a former parishioner of both Epiphany and St. Mark’s.

Memorial plaque on the pulpit, given to the parish by the children of the first rector.

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3 comments
  1. Natasha said:

    So enjoying reading through your blog entries. And I love how some of the present day visits are turning into ecumenical sharing! Thank you for all your work. I’m fascinated.

    • Thanks, Natasha. I’ve been met with nothing but graciousness. Next Friday I’m meeting Fr. David Belden, who is one of the priests at St. Nectarios Greek Orthodox Church at Dovercourt and Davenport. It was, until the mid 1970s, St. Edmund the Martyr.

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