Calvary Church, Silverthorn & Rosethorn

Calvary Church, which was located at the corner of Silverthorn and Rosethorn (between St. Clair & Eglinton, just east of Keele) can trace its existence back to a commitment that a Mr and Mrs Ball made to their English vicar as they prepared to emigrate to Canada in 1910. They promised that, if there was no Church of England community near where they would live, they would make sure one got started.

In the second decade of the twentieth century, the community of Silverthorn was largely agricultural. During that decade, two large farms (the Silverthorn and Rowntree estates) were subdivided and new suburbs were born. (Some things never change; this kind of green field development is exactly what goes on today throughout the GTA.) Calvary Church got its starts from the Ball family and a few others beginning to meet informally in homes. Eventually the group met on the second floor of the Orange Hall on Silverthorn Avenue.

In early 1915, a temporary building was constructed, “erected almost entirely by the free labor (sic) of our [parish] men, then out of work and really needing the money we were unable to give.” The land on which the building was located was purchased by the parish of St. Mark, West Toronto, which was located to the south.

Calvary continued to be a mission until becoming an independent parish in 1923. By 1924, these facilities were inadequate. The building sat 170 and over 150 adults regularly attended worship. The Sunday School, which had begun with 12 children and two teachers, now numbered 375 students and 27 teachers. A fundraising appeal put the need this way: “In our need we turn to our friends and ask for their sympathy, their prayers, and as far as possible, their financial assistance and support in building a church worthy of the Anglican Communion in this growing district and suited to the needs of the ever-increasing population settling in the parish.” The appeal must have worked for, in 1924, two adjacent properties were purchased. In 1927 the sod was turned and cornerstone laid for the new Calvary Church, which was opened in March 1928.

The histories of Calvary Church and St. Mark’s (about which I will post soon) weave together at several points after St. Mark’s assisted with the founding of Calvary. It seems there was some rivalry between the two congregations over territory. St. Mark’s was, at the time, located on Ford Street, south of St. Clair.  A parish history of Calvary, published on occasion of its 50th anniversary in 1964, makes this comment: “After years of discussion between the congregation of St. Marks and Calvary, an understanding was reached that St. Marks would remain south of St. Clair Avenue. However, in 1930 St. Marks moved north of St. Clair on Blackthorn Avenue against the protests of the Calvary congregation.” In its new location, St. Marks and Calvary were located approximately one kilometre apart.

After the second world war, attendance at Calvary began to drop. The same parish history attributes this, and a change of worship patterns from Sunday evenings to mornings, to the advent of television: “During 1949 and 1950 we see a changeover from large 7 p.m. services to large 11 a.m. services and a general drop in attendance. This is coincidental with the introduction of television in Toronto via the Buffalo station. This medium has caused a great change in our social habits.” In the 1960s, the cause of the decline in attendance was clearly identified as the exodus of Anglicans to the suburbs. The parish found itself in arrears to both the gas company and the diocese. In 1967, Calvary (always a parish of the low Anglican tradition) experimented with combining services twice a month with nearby Silverthorn United Church.

In 1970, the decision was taken to amalgamate Calvary with its mother church, St. Mark’s. An opportunity arose when the new rector of St. Mark’s died suddenly. The rector of Calvary, Don Beatty, became rector of the newly amalgamated parish, and the Calvary building was sold. May 3, 1970 was “Amalgamation Sunday”. After Morning Prayer at 10.00 at Calvary, parishioners moved by car to St. Mark’s where, at 11.00, Bishop George Snell officiated at confirmation with candidates from both Calvary and St. Mark’s.

The building is now St. George Romanian Orthodox Church. The photographs below show the original Calvary building with an addition added after Calvary was sold. The architectural contrast is striking. 

There are no pictures of the interior of Calvary in the diocesan archives and I’ve been unable to make contact with someone at St. George’s to see about seeing the inside today. However the parish website offers a photographic tour of its rich interior.

  1. When I read in the archives about the community of Silverthorn having been built on the farms of the Silverthorn and Rowntree families, I remembered that Mary Lou has Rowntree roots (Rowntree was her mother’s mother’s mother’s name). We have a very good history of the family and Mary Lou was able to confirm that, indeed, these are her Rowntrees!

  2. Michelle Cabral said:

    My parents did some excavation in the late 1980s on their house on Silverthorn (a semi-detached on a double lot, which was odd because it was the only one of its kind on that stretch of street), and underneath were foundation stones large enough to break the crane the crew was using. One of our neighbours at the time told us there used to be a church on the lot, and the builders must have never properly removed its foundation. The house is located two lots down from St. George Orthodox. After reading this, I have reason to believe that the house I grew up in stands on the property where the original church from 1915-1923 once stood. Unbelievable.

  3. Fascinating! Thank you for the comment and for the information. Do you know roughly when your parents’ house was built?

  4. Michelle Cabral said:

    If I recall from one time I got a peek at the deed and blueprints, I would hazard to guess either late 1950s or early 1960s? It always struck me odd just how enormous the lot seemed in comparison to other houses surrounding it: long, with the house set quite far back from the road, and wide.

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