St. Cyprian’s, Manning Avenue

Seaton Village was one of the small villages swallowed up by the expansion of the City of Toronto in the late nineteenth century. The village (encompassing the area north of Bloor and south of Dupont, between Christie and Bathurst) was annexed by the City of Toronto in 1888. As early as 1883, a mission was established in the village, with services held over a driving shed located at Bathurst and Bloor. These services were taken by students from Trinity College. Early oversight of the mission was shared between the parishes of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields on College Street, St. Alban’s Cathedral on Howland Avenue, and St. Thomas’ on Huron Street. In 1886, services were transferred to the crypt of St. Alban’s Cathedral.

Before the first St.Cyprian’s was built, the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine established a mission house on Follis Avenue in Seaton Village. The Sisterhood, which had begun in 1884, was invited by John Charles Roper, vicar of St. Thomas’ Church on Huron Street and chaplain to the sisters, to open up a mission house in order to address the endemic poverty of Seaton Village. From their house the sisters operated a dispensary and provided a wide range of social services including mothers’ meetings, sewing classes and pastoral care. A parish history of St. Cyprian’s describes the Mission House in this way: “It was a worship centre in the true sense, combining the meeting of almost every conceivable physical need in a very impoverished community, with the continual offering of God’s love on the chapel altar.”

In 1891, the parish of St. Cyprian’s was formally constituted, and a frame church was opened in 1892. The architect was Eden Smith, a member of St. Thomas’ Church and a well-known Toronto architect of the Arts and Crafts School. (Just a couple of years later, the present St. Thomas’ building was opened, also designed by Eden Smith.) Below is a sketch of the first St. Cyprian’s (located on the south-west corner of Christie and Dupont) and photographs of the exterior and the interior.

The Memoirs of Mother Hannah Grier Coome, the Mother-Foundress of the Sisterhood, provide an insight into the demographics and living conditions of Seaton Village at the time. “The people in district were chiefly English or Scottish immigrants, with a few families from Newfoundland. Many of the latter were carpenters and boat-builders, industrious and self-respecting people, unwilling to become pauperized, and unused to help from the Parish. Those who came from Overseas were also, most of them, anxious for work. Carpenters, plumbers, painters, and house-builders had come to Toronto in great numbers, under the impression that much building was going on, and they found to their disappointment that it had been overdone and was now, in 1891-2, almost at a standstill; consequently times were very hard, and the cold was intense that winter. Many of the women, who had hitherto been home-keepers, were forced to take up laundry-work, or charring, while the men stayed at home to attend to the children. Often a man was found working a sewing-machine, or cooking a meal for the young family, half ashamed of himself, and little realizing how truly he was doing his duty.”

The connection between St. Cyprian’s and St. Thomas’ was strong, not only through the Sisters (whose ‘home parish’ was St. Thomas’) but also through the clergy. The first rector of St. Cyprian’s was C. H. Shortt, who became vicar of St. Thomas’ five years later. He was succeeded by C. A. Seager, who later was Provost of Trinity College, Bishop of Huron and Bishop of Ontario. The liturgical style of St. Cyprian’s seemed to be moderately anglo-catholic. A contemporary description by John Ross Roberton puts it this way: “The services being moderately advanced in ritual, there is a surpliced choir of men and boys assisted by several ladies.” the procession, and sit in the chancel.) (At the time, a telltale sign of a parish’s liturgical style was the presence or absence of vested choirs. In fact, battles were fought on the very question of whether choristers should sing, unseen, from the gallery, or be vested, join in the procession, and sit up front in the chancel.)

As the parish grew, a larger building was required. The new building, on the north-east corner of Manning Avenue and Follis Avenue, just several houses away from the SSJD Mission House, was completed in 1907 and designed by architect Robert Balmer McGiffin. The old church was moved to a location beside the church and used as a parish hall. It was replaced by a new parish hall in 1922. In the photograph below of the second St. Cyrpian’s, a small part of the 1922 hall can be seen on the left.

By 1912, as Mother Hannah’s memoirs explain, “times improved. Men got work and before long were able to build small houses for themselves and to add to them as years went on, with the result that Seaton Village is now [i.e. the 1930’s, when the memoirs were compiled] a flourishing suburb of Toronto…”  (And now, of course, some of those working classes houses sell for more than a million dollars!) In 1912, the Sisters closed the Mission House; by 1914 they had established a similar kind of ministry in the east end of Toronto, where All Hallows’ Church was being established in the midst of an impoverished area.

The pattern of growth and decline for St. Cyprian’s mirrored other parishes in the city as people moved to the new suburbs and the people who had immigrated from other countries moved in. In a letter contained in the 60th anniversary parish history in 1951, written by the rector, D. C. Candy, the situation was described in this way: “When the community has changed, as ours has in the past twenty years, the Church has often moved out, or else, in remaining, been dependent upon the support of members in newer or more selective parts of the city. We are still, and, I pray, always will be, a community parish, welcoming back from time to time former members of the parish who have moved away, but always fashioning our life to meet the changing face of our own community.”  

By the mid-1960s, St. Cyprian’s was faced with the decision of soldiering on with limited resources, or closing and amalgamating with another parish. In 1966, the decision was taken to amalgamate with the Church of St. Mary the Virgin to the west and the amalgamated parish of St. Mary the Virgin & St. Cyprian was born. (I believe this was the first instance in the diocese of double-barrelled parish names.) St. Mary the Virgin & St. Cyprian’s closed in 2002. (I’ll post at some point soon about this parish, whose building has sat derelict for several years and is now slated to be developed into condos.) Some of the furnishings and memorials were taken to the new parish, and others went to a  new parish being built in North York. Also going to North York was the parish name. St. Cyprian’s, near Finch and Leslie has a number of furnishings from St. Cyprian’s, Manning Avenue. (At some point I’m hoping to get there and take some photographs.)

The building was purchased by Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral, who continue to use it to this day. (Their former building was on Glen Morris Avenue, just south of St. Thomas’, and is now used by the University of Toronto.) On a recent visit, its rector, Archpriest Vasyl Kolega, was extremely gracious, and allowed me to take photographs of the interior as it is today. The photograph below is of a stained-glass window depicting St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage.

The interior is quite dazzling, full of colour and the characteristic features of an eastern rite church. It is interesting to compare the photographs  below and note how the iconostasis, which separates the nave from the sanctuary, augments the architectural arch separating the nave from the chancel/sanctuary.

The photograph below shows the combination of stained glass windows from the building’s Anglican era coupled with icons from its current Russian Orthodox use. Thanks to a blog comment from Alexi Somerville, I now know that the pews in this photograph are from St. Cyprian’s.

The pews have been removed, consistent with eastern rite liturgical practice. This photograph shows the west end and the gallery (and chairs).

This pew is at the back of the space is from the congregation’s days in a building on Glen Morris Street, before they bought this property. The pew is actually from the Lutheran congrregation which used the church on Glen Morris before the Christ our Saviour congregation. (Thanks to reader Alexi Somerville for this information.)

While I was visiting I spoke with a parishioner who has been a member since before Christ the Saviour purchased the building. She pointed out to me the icon in this sixteenth century “passage” photographed below. The icon was written by Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, sister of Czar Nicholas II. The Grand Duchess moved to Toronto in 1947 and was a member of this congregation until her death in 1960. Unfortunately the icon does not show up particularly well in the photograph; it is of the Virgin Mary holding a sheet, denoting her prayers covering the entire world. (There is a connection with my parish as we have a small icon of the Virgin Mary and Jesus written by Duchess Olga and given by her to Healey and Gladys Willan, with whom she travelled in Toronto artistic circles. Our icon is located in the south aisle, in the Lady Chapel.)

A personal postscript: In researching St. Cyprian’s, I discovered that my grandfather, Warren Turner, was Assistant Curate of this parish in 1936-1937. I had a vague recollection that he had served a parish named St. Cyprian’s,but I didn’t realize that this was the parish. He was ordained deacon during his final year of theological studies at Trinity College and served here before going to Saskatchewan,where his first two parishes were. I’m struck by the coincidence of now serving a parish, also located on Manning Avenue, just a kilometre south.

  1. Allan Risk said:

    Curious about the locution “the icon was written” … Why “written” and not “painted”?

  2. Hi Allan: I’ve only fastened onto that term fairly recently. Here’s one response that I found that helps explain: “it is called writing rather than painting because it is a spiritual practice akin to copying sacred texts. It is not about creativity, it is about a faithful rendering of an image that is a window to the Divine” Hope that helps.

  3. Fr. David Belden said:

    We have a memorial service every year at the grave of Grand Duchess Olga, sister of Czar St. Nicholas, in York Cemetery, N. York. All welcome!

    Fr. David Belden, St. Theodore of Canterbury Orthodox Mission, Toronto

    • Thank you, Father! What time of year does the memorial service happen? I’d be interested in lettting folks at St. Mary Magdalene’s know. (And I look forward to meeting you next Friday!)

  4. Doug Cowling said:

    Sometime when you’re down at Adelaide Street, ask to see the Book of Boundaries which has all (well, many) of the documents relating to the changes to parish boundaries. When I was at Messiah, I was sent as the parish’s representative to a very odd hearing/meeting/bishop’s court for the redrawing of parish boundaries after the closures of St. Mary the Virgin & St. Cyprian and St. Alban’s. It was amusing to find myself advocating Messiah’s case against David Neelands’ assertion of St. Thomas’ claims. Since Messiah was a vanity parish carved out of existing parishes in the 1890’s, the spoils of parochial oversight were awarded to Huron Street. Not sure if the Book is in the Archdeacon’s office or the Archives. All terribly English.

  5. Alexei Somerville said:

    Regarding your observation that the pew at the rear of the current russian cathedral is left over from when it was St. Cyprians, you oddly chose the ONLY remaining pew which was NOT from there.;-)
    This pew (which is Victorian painted pine) was brought to the Manning site when the cathedral was moved there from 4 Glen Morris Street in 1966, and is in fact a left over from when THAT property was a Lutheran Church.
    The original St. Cyprian pews are still in use in the russian church, and are of much finer construction of fumed oak with maltese style crosses carved into the top of the outer side ends which project upwards like ears.
    You can see them (with the distinct ears) situated below the stained glass windows in your modern photograph of the church interior, where they are ranged along both side walls of the cathedral. You can compare them to the rear view in old photo of this church when it was still St. Cyprians. There are still (or were ten years ago) several extra ones stacked up in the unfinished basement storage area beneath the church.

    As was previously mentioned, in the orthodox rite, it is held that it is disrespectful to sit in the presence of God, hence we stand for the entire three hour liturgy punctuated with occasional kneeling for various prayers.
    It is allowed that one may sit down during those parts of the service usually prior to communion offering when the holy gates of the iconostasis are closed by the priest, hence the reason for the pews ringing the perimeter of the church, although it is customary that only seniors, and mothers with children do this, and thusly usually stand at or near these benches.

    Do note though that as with most of these traditions, the orthodox church is not all rigid about them, and any visitors to the cathedral during a service are quite welcome to sit or stand whenever it suits them without fear of pointed glances from the officiating priest nor any church lady. 😉

  6. Thank you for the corrections, which I’ve now made. Much appreciated!

    I often made the point about standing in the orthodox tradition in my last parish, when we were building a new space and having a parish conversation about pews vs chairs, and about standing vs kneeling!

    I’ve been to vespers at Christ our Saviour once — many moons ago — and hope to come again!

    Thanks for your interest.

  7. Diane Allengame said:

    The c. 1876 tracker organ used at St. Cyprian’s has been giving faithful service at St. James’ Caledon East since it was moved there c. 1945.

  8. Fr. David Belden said:

    It, was my privilege to celebrate Vespers on the 100th Anniversary of SSJD at Christ the Saviour. Bishops Henry Hill and Robert Seaborn whose father was one time rector of St. Cyprian’s, and many of the SSJD sisters were present. It was the same year I was guest preacher at the May Festival at St. Mary Magdalene.. 1984, I think.

    Fr. David Belden, St. Theodore of Canterbury Orthodox Mission (formerly St. Edmund’s Anglican Church), Dovercourt at Davenport, Toronto

  9. For a year 1970-1971, I went to Wycliffe Seminary, but worshiped at St. Mary’s & St. Cyp’s. I am not important. But there was a young man who was a musical genius who ran the choir, in which I sang. He arranged a version of We Three Kings that was so profoundly brilliant, I still can remember the excellent harmony. If anyone knows where this man went or even his name, it would be a true blessing to know. I can be contacted at Many thanks.

  10. Nimue Mac Neil said:

    The very idea that anyone besides myself reminders this church is for me astonishing. Please contact me. I have some great stories to share.

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