St. Clement’s, Leslieville (Riverdale)

Leslieville, located east of the Don River, is currently one of the trendy Toronto neighbourhoods. is a residential construction project offering “A Gothic Revival in Leslieville”. The northern part of this project is the former St. Clement’s, Riverdale.

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This is the third St. Clement’s. Although for most of its history the parish was known as “St. Clement’s, Riverdale”, its first name was “St. Clement’s, Leslieville”.

Leslieville was a village of three hundred people which developed in the 1850s around the Toronto Nurseries, owned by George Leslie and sons. The first Anglican services in the village where held at Callander’s Hall (an Orange Hall), led by Charles Ruttan, then the rector of St. John’s, Norway and St. Barnabas. In August 1888, a lot was purchased on the south side of Queen Street, east of Toronto Nurseries and Caroline Street. The first St. Clement’s, a simple frame building with seating for 150, opened in the spring of 1889.

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The photograph below shows the location today (Queen Street, east of Pape and west of Leslie).

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John Ross Robertson describes the churchmanship of the early days of St. Clement’s as “moderate anglo-catholic”. What did this mean? The choir wore cassock and surplice, but the clergy did not wear eucharistic vestments. There was “no undue bowing of genuflexion”, and “all is becoming and reverent”. The congregation bowed their head at the mention of the Saviour, he reported, but added:  “Here and there may be seen a worshipper who bows his head at the recital of the Gloria, but this is an old custom, observed by many Anglicans who have not the faintest leaning toward Rome.

By 1897 there were challenges. The church was filled to over-flowing. The first rector had left, leaving the parish $5000 in debt and still having title to the property. (More about the Reverend John Usborne below.) The mortgagee forced the sale of the land, and the congregation purchased a new site just north, on Brooklyn Avenue north of Queen. (The second rector, Sir Francis Cooke Caulfield Heathcote (1868-1961) later became Bishop of New Westminster in British Columbia.)

The second St. Clement’s, a very plain building shown in the sketch and photographs below, was completed on January 1st, 1899. In 1906 the parish founded a mission parish (St. David’s, Donlands) and the building was enlarged. By this point, the parish had become known as “St. Clement’s, Riverdale”.

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I’m unsure of the precise location of the second St. Clement’s, but it would have been just north of the intersection of Queen Street East and Brooklyn Avenue.

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Not so many years later, in the midst of a pre-World War I population boom, St. Clement’s once again had outgrown its space. A building fund was started in 1910 and a new site on Jones Avenue, a short distance east and north, was purchased in 1911, with the cornerstone for the new building being laid in 1913.

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The new building opened on May 3, 1914. The architect, Andrew Sharp (1865-1966) also designed St. Aidan’s and St. Barnabas in the east end. (In 1923 he moved to Los Angeles and later became a movie set designed for Warner Brothers.) The third St. Clement’s incorporated the bell from the first building and the organ from the second building. In 1923 an addition was completed on the east end. In the 1950s additional property to the south was purchased with a view to future expansion or investment. It became a parking lot for the parish and now will be the location of part of the St. Clement’s redevelopment.

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The 1920s were a boom time for St.Clement’s. The photograph below gives an indication of this. During this decade the Sunday School averaged 600 children on a Sunday, and the annual Sunday School picnic would draw in the neighbourhood of 2000 people!

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One of the epic figures from the history of St. Clement’s was the Reverend T.W. Barnett, who served as rector from 1931 to 1957 (and who is the father and grandfather of a number of Anglican clergy). Before becoming the rector of St. Clement’s he served the parish of Roche’s Point, a popular summer destination for well-off Torontonians. After leaving Roche’s Point, Canon Barnett used to spend part of his summers there, and would not miss any opportunity to enlist the financial support of wealthy summer parishioner to support what became a very vibrant social service ministry at St. Clement’s, providing clothing, food, heating fuel and medical supplies to the increasingly impoverished neighbourhood of Leslieville during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.  

By early 1970s the parish reflected the decline in attendance characteristic of so many urban parishes. For almost thirty years, the Reverend Derwyn Shea was the part-time priest-in-charge, coupling his pastoral responsibilities with political involvement as a Toronto city councillor and member of the provincial legislature. In 2006 St.Clement’s was closed and disestablished. The photographs below show the building as it looks today, ready for the redevelopment and reconstruction into residential space.

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When St. Thomas’, Brooklin was preparing for the construction of a new and expanded facilities in the mid-2000s, a number of us on the building committee visited the recently-closed St. Clement’s, on the look out for furnishings which could be incorporated into the new building. We were able to secure the altar, lectern and the wooden reredos for our use. This photograph shows some of the woodwork at St. Thomas’, awaiting use in the new building.

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On November 1st, 2009, the new building was consecrated by Bishop Linda Nicholls. This photograph shows the bishop anointing the St. Clement’s altar for its new purpose at St. Thomas’. (Because the space was designed for liturgical flexibility, wheels were added to the altar so that it could easily be moved.)

Brooklin altar (Medium)The altar was then vested, including a frontal from the former Holy Trinity, Ajax, redesigned and adapted to fit the old St. Clement’s altar.

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The wooden reredos was creatively incorporated by architect Elizabeth Davidson into the main gathering space, serving as focal point to the pass-through into the kitchen.

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One member of the committee came up with a very creative use for the lectern. Because in its original form it was very tall (it stood on the floor but the reader would stand in the choir several steps up) it needed to be cut -down for our use. We ended up using the top half as the lectern and using the bottom half as the base for the credence table.

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St Thomas’ also incorporated an iron cross we discovered in the basement which had at one point stood atop St. Clement’s. The cross forms a centrepiece above the north entrance of the new St. Thomas’, Brooklin. 

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A postscript about mission that, in some ways, is not dissimilar to where the church finds itself today. A booklet produced on the occasion of the parish’s 75th anniversary tells this story of how the Reverend John Usborne came to be St. Clement’s founding rector:  “Bishop Sweatman took the young divinity student into his office and closed the door. “John”, he said. “There’s a little village two miles east of the city limites with 300 souls and no church services. I would like you to make a survey of the whole area of Leslieville with a view to establishing a mission post there. Are you ready to test your vocation to the Sacred Ministry?” Usborne was not, in fact, a young man at the time. He was forty-seven, having been ordained after a business career in Toronto. After leaving St. Clement’s he moved to Honolulu, where he established another St. Clement’s, and ended up rather infamously in a public battle with the Bishop of Honolulu. Details can be found here.

  1. Some of the refuseniks from the St Clement’s closure joined the Independent Anglican Church, Canada Synod, which formed in the ’30s out of a dispute over ritual at the Church of St John the Evangelist in Hamilton, and continued for a time as “St Clement of Rome Cathedral” in the former Woodgreen United Church. The congregation still exists, under a new dedication, but I gather the St Clement’s contingent didn’t last. There was a 360 Vision programme on the dispute with the diocese, but I’ve been unable to find it archived.

  2. As to the site of the second St. Clement’s….

    If you walk north on Brooklyn from Queen, keep an eye on the west side. Just a few houses up you’ll see a preposterously small house north of a much larger detached home. At first glance you might think that the smaller home’s property was ‘carved’ from the larger home’s, and you would be absolutely correct. (f you Google ’26 Brooklyn Avenue Toronto’ and look on Streetview, you’ll find it easily.)

    The second St. Clement’s was across the street from this larger house, and just a few feet south.

    The house, incidentally, was home to Albert Edkins, who served as Lay Reader at St. Clement’s from 1914 until his death in the early 1940s. The largest stained-glass window in the third St. Clement’s was dedicated to his memory. (This is the window that was largely obscured by the last organ that was installed.)

    Albert Edkins was also my great-grandfather. My grandmother was born in the house on Brooklyn. My maternal grandparents were married at St. Clement’s, as were most of my grandmother’s siblings. And my great-grandparents and grandparents are buried, side by side, not too far away at St. John’s (Norway) Cemetery.

    As a Journalism student at Ryerson, I did a radio documentary about St. Clement’s in 1991. I visited the church a few times (and had one little old lady take a look at me and ask if my last name was Edkins!) and interviewed Derwyn Shea at some length. When he was first assigned there, his mission had been to find a way to best close the parish. Instead, to his credit he kept it going as long as he could.

  3. Thank you very much for this very interesting and helpful historical information. Much appreciated!

  4. You’re most welcome. My mother’s family (both sides) had very deep roots in that area, with connections to the Jones family (as in Jones Ave.) and the now-forgotten Wagstaffs (Wagstaff Dr. is a small street due south of the Greenwood TTC yard) who once owned a brickworks on the street bearing their name. Wagstaff, incidentally, was my mother’s maiden name.

    Apart from the stain-glassed window I mentioned above, there were numerous plaques and other reminders of my family’s connection to that church, which stretched from the time of the first St. Clement’s until my great-grandmother’s funeral, which was held in the third St. Clement’s in 1961. When I learned that the church was being closed, I contacted the Diocese and inquired into possibly buying some of the smaller things (a wooden Bible stand, for example) that had been donated by my family or dedicated to the memory of various family members. I forget who I heard from, but the gist of the response was ‘go away, not interested’.

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