St. Edmund the Martyr, Davenport & Dovercourt

On one of my regular cycling routes, I ride along Davenport (bike lanes!). On the south side, between Dufferin and Ossington, are a number of churches. One of them is St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Cathedral, a rather unassuming building.

It was only after starting this project that I realized that this is the building of the former St. Edmund the Martyr Anglican Church.

In 1906, parishioners from St. Mary the Virgin (located, at the time, due south at Delaware and Bloor) asked for permission to establish a mission in the northern part of the parish. (At the time, everything north of Davenport was bush, and the population east and west of Dovercourt was sparse.) The mission first met at Pine School on Bartlett Avenue. Later that year, land was purchased at Dovercourt and Davenport and a small wooden building was erected. This first building was soon replaced with a second, larger building which was, at the time, intended only as a ‘place-holder’ until a proper church building could be erected. As the mission grew, the building was enlarged in 1911 with the addition of a chancel and trancepts. In 1912, St. Edmund the Martyr became a parish.

As the first world war began, the parish had ambitions to build a new church that would seat 900, but the advent of the war put a stop to the planning. By 1917, the foundation of the wooden building was condemned and, as a result, the church was raised and a basement built underneath. Later, in the late 1940s, the wooden building was bricked over and took the external appearance it has today. The photographs below (taken from a newspaper clipping, hence the poor quality) show the building before and after the addition of brick.

This recent photograph shows some of the original wooden siding, and the very quaint belfry.

After the war, another plan had the parish sell the site at Davenport and Dovercourt to the Toronto Transit Commission and purchase a new site for a larger church. These plans fell through when the TTC decided they did not need the site for their operations. Attention then turned to renovating the building. In the end, the original intention of the parishioners of St. Edmund’s to build another church was never realized.

The story of St. Edmund the Martyr is like that of many other parishes in the centre of the city. After the second world war, families began to move to the suburbs. One report from 1948 estimated that 200 families from the parish had left for the suburbs in the previous two years. A snapshot from the mid-1960s speaks to the profound change in the neighbourhood. The rector at the time, C.C. Brazill, was quoted in The Anglican as saying “We are like an island.” On Sundays the neighbouring Roman Catholic parish of St. Mary and the Angels, he observed, held “continuous masses on two floors attracting 4,000 worshippers”, attracting new residents of Italian ancestry. St. Edmund’s was lucky to get 120 people on a Sunday morning. A parish which had, at one time, had 1,200 families on the rolls now had 160. The rector observed that whereas St. Mary and the Angels had, that year, held nearly 2,000 weddings and baptized over 4,000 infants, St. Edmund’s had had three weddings and four baptisms. Even allowing for statistical hyperbole, his point was clear.

In 1976, St. Edmund the Martyr was deconsecrated and the property sold. The name and the memorials went to the parish of St. Hugh in Malton, which was renamed with the name it bears today — St. Hugh & St. Edmund.

The building was purchased by the old calendar Greek Orthodox Church, remodelled, and today continues life as St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church. On a recent visit to the cathedral, Fr. David Belden was generous with his hospitality in showing me the building, and offering me mementos and treats! Fr. David (who has preached at my parish and used to attend the daily offices when he lived nearby) is responsible for the English-speaking mission of St. Nektario called St. Theodore of Canterbury Orthodox Mission, which meets in a small former meeting room on the north side of the building. This photograph is of the space used by Fr. David’s congregation.

The photograph below, from the archives of the Diocese of Toronto, show the interior in its St. Edmund’s days.

Contrast this with the interior as it looks today.

The nave is now open without pews (in orthodox style) although pews do line the perimeter for those who need them. These are, most likely, pews from St. Edmund’s.

The windows shown below are from the St. Edmund’s days. After the building became St. Nektarios, the parishioner copied the design to fill in other windows. Unfortunately some of the colour on the newer windows has faded.

The bishop’s cathedra or chair:

A serious baptismal font:

The confessional:

Fr. David kindly allowed me see and take pictures of the altar area behind the iconostasis. Note that the original east window has been closed up and replaced by two smaller windows.

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2 comments
  1. Alexandra belden-Ahlin said:

    Wow this is an amazing piece of history 🙂 I am fr. David’s daughter. I grew up in that church. I’m not sure if he told you about the school that used to be in the basement there? Saint John of Kronstadt ,it was a small yet fun and educational:) I’m glad my father was so kind but that’s him:) sincerely Alexandra belden-Ahlin

  2. Fr. David Belden said:

    Fr. David, thank you for the beautiful pictures of St. Nectarios/St. Theodore. We are back at St. Theodore’s (the former St. Joseph of Arimathea English-language Orthodox Parish after 25 years!) The parish was started in 1985; outgrew the Dovercourt-Davenport location; moved to Wilson Heights, North York; outgrew this location; and moved to Whitevale (Pickering) before it could find a venue large enough, but also affordable.

    Now, jn “retirement” we are back where we started, with a congregation unable to go all the way to Pickering!

    Anglicansare welcome to Sunday Liturgy at 10 A.M.

    Fr. David Belden

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