St. Jude’s, Roncesvalles

One of the reasons I started this research project was St. Jude’s, which was located on the east side of  Roncesvalles Avenue, a few blocks south of Bloor. The family connections are on both sides of my family. My maternal grandfather, the Reverend Canon Warren Turner, was the rector of St. Jude’s from 1955 to 1976. My paternal grandparents were members of the parish and my father sang in the choir as a boy.

The parish began life in 1882 as a mission from St. Anne’s Church, and was known as the “Howard Street Mission”. At the time this area was (in the words of John Ross Robertson) the “extreme west end” of the city. The Reverend John McLean Ballard, the rector of St. Anne’s, sent Trinity College student John Gibson to hold services in the school house on Boustead Avenue. (I assume that this is the same John Gibson who plays a major role in the history of the Church of the Ascension, also written up in this blog.)

In 1886, the Reverend Henry Softley, curate at St. Olave’s Church, revived the Sunday School, and a building lot on Roncesvalles was purchased. In 1888 the mission was given the name of St. Jude’s, and the next year, the cornerstone was laid for the first St. Jude’s building, which opened in 1890. The building, shown in the sketch below from John Ross Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto, sat one hundred people, and was described as a “quaint English chapel”.

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The churchmanship of St. Jude’s was in the high church tradition, as it was typically expressed in the nineteenth century. There was a pipe organ and a surpliced choir. Some of the early clergy who served the parish later went on to serve anglo-catholic parishes in the city. The Reverends John Charles Roper (later bishop) and C.H. Shortt both took services during the 1880s, and later were vicars of St. Thomas’, Huron Street). The Reverend Frank Hartley, the first curate, left shortly after the building opened to become the rector of St. Matthias, Bellwoods. In 1903 alterations and improvements were made to the building, and in 1905 St Jude’s was set apart as a separate parish.

In 1911, work began on a larger church building, located in the lot to the north. The new St. Jude’s, which sat 550, was dedicated on September 12, 1912.

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In the 1920s, St. Jude’s continued to demonstrate a high ecclesiology. A 1922 parish magazine announced the celebration of Holy Communion at 10.30 am and Evensong at 8 pm on Ascension Day (which falls on a Thursday), noting that “[t]his is one of the great festivals of the year, and it is surprising how lax many people are in its observance.” The next year, the following description of its churchmanship was outlined in the parish newsletter:  “The Church of St. Jude has stood for a very definite churchmanship during the past quarter of a century. If it had any faults it at least never has trimmed its sails to catch every kind of breeze. It has not sought popularity by sacrificing principle. There have been no “frills” and no “imitations” of religious bodies with whom we consistently differ. It believes that the Church is more than a mere human institution organized by good people to do God’s work among men; it believes that Jesus Christ came down from heaven to establish His Church and that every division of Christendom is contrary to his divine purpose. It believes that the Church of England is a branch of this Holy Catholic Church commissioned by God to minister to the needs of the English speaking people.” And this: And “If the Holy Communion is merely a memorial then it is of no greater value than a picture of the death of Christ or a crucifix placed before our eyes.”

(It should be noted, however, that St. Jude’s was never an anglo-catholic parish. Under my grandfather’s rectorship, it was a cassock and surplice parish, with holy communion alternating with morning prayer on Sunday mornings — standard fare for mid-century Anglican parishes.)

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In 1929, the old church was demolished and in its place a parish hall erected. The hall was focused on the needs of children and young people, and included a gymnasium and an auditorium, designed for the enrollment of 900 students in the Sunday School program. And, indeed, in the 1930s, the numbers were huge. In the mid-1930s it was not unusual to have 600 young people in Sunday School. (My grandfather did a placement at St. Jude’s when he was a student at Trinity College in the 1930s and my mother recalls him talking about the huge number of young people.)

By the 1950s, the demographics of the neighbourhood were undergoing a profound change, one which affected St. Jude’s and many other parishes closer to the downtown. In 1955, my grandfather succeeded the Reverend R. J. Shires, who had gone to St. Jude’s in 1933. The next year, the weekly report on attendance and finances which was included in the Sunday leaflet included this pithy summary:

10 June 1956. Report for Last Week — Attendance. Finances. DISAPPOINTING!

In the same year, the parish newsletter highlighted the predicament of families leaving for the suburbs:  “Replacements Needed. By the end of June, due to removals from our city, our Church will have lost six or more regular subscribers in a short period. Of course, we shall miss these people for their own sakes. But it is obvious that their going will also affect our financial picture. We need to replace these good givers with new ones.” In his report to Vestry in 1956, the rector put it this way:   “Let’s face it. This parish will never again be the kind of settled residential parish it was prior to 1939. It is now largely one of apartment (sic), suites and rooms and that means a constantly changing population… at first sight  it appears that our district is now predominantly European in their national origin and Roman Catholic in Faith.” 

The life of St. Jude’s continued for the next two decades. Consideration was given to selling the property in 1967 and a parish commission was established, but no decision taken. It became a much smaller parish with a strong sense of community. I recall many families (including mine) travelling from the suburbs to attend church on Sundays, their loyalty to the parish intact.

In 1977, the parish was disestablished. My grandfather had retired the previous year, after several months of ill health. (He died of a heart attack five hours after his retirement took effect.) The last priest-in-charge was Fr Donald W. Clark. When I arrived at my current parish, I met Fr. Clark and his wife Ritsu, who were married at SMM in 1951, and had the privilege of presiding over the renewal of their weddings vows at SMM, sixty years after they were married.

Many of the furnishings from St. Jude’s went to a new St. Jude’s in Bramalea, which opened in May 1980. This included several of the stained glass windows and the baptismal font. These can be seen here on the parish website. Other windows went to St. Francis of Assisi in Mississauga. Many years ago I visited the new St. Jude’s and saw the font, seen below in these photographs of my baptism on Sunday June 12, 1966. (I’m the fifteen-day-old bald-headed infant in my grandfather’s arms.)

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St Jude’s holds for me and my family many memories. My paternal grandfather, Ralph Harrison, at one point served as the rector’s warden to my maternal grandfather, as the leaflet below indicates.

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There is also a connection with my wife Mary Lou’s family through her father, Donald Foster. Don, who went on to pioneer and lead the funeral service education program at Humber College, started his career in the 1950s at the Turner & Porter funeral home located directly across the street from St. Jude’s. After Mary Lou and I met, we discovered that my future father-in-law and my grandfather did many funerals together in those years, ten years or so before Mary Lou and I were born.

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After St. Jude’s closed, the building was sold to another church and continued to be used as a church for many years. On one occasion when it was up for sale I contacted the real estate agent, who gave me the opportunity to tour the facility. By then it was in very poor repair, but I discovered the organ was still in place. I turned on the blower and managed to eke out a few out-of-tune notes as I recalled times, as a child, sitting on the same bench, with the blower turned off, make-believing that I was an organist. (Truth be told, I think I also stood in the pulpit and pretended I was a priest.)

Later, the parish hall was used for a time as a market. I recall visiting it once. The external brick work had been painted very colourfully and artistically. The photograph below, of poor quality, gives some indication of what it looked like.

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Finally, the building was purchased by developer Harry Stinson and the Mirvish family. For a time, the Mirvish family used the parish hall as a rehearsal space for their musicals, including Mamma Mia and The Lion King. It was an ideal location because the wood floor in the parish hall was sprung and congenial for the dancers.

The plan was for St. Jude’s to be converted into 27 loft condominiums. The photographs below are taken from a 2001 Toronto Star feature article about the project.

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Unfortunately the units didn’t sell and, instead, the building was demolished in 2004. (There is an extensive gallery of photographs from the demolition process here. The external shot shows part of the painted parish hall.)

Before the building was torn down, the Wilson’s (another long-standing St Jude’s family) negotiated to salvage the bell. It has now been installed in the tower at their parish, All Saints, Kingsway where it chimes daily. A few years ago, the rector Andrew Sheldon kindly led me up to the tower to see the bell.

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Instead of the original conversion project, a new building of condominiums was built at 437 Roncesvalles Avenue.

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IMG_7726 (Medium)The interior space, seen in the second photograph below, has a strong architectural echo to the original church’s ceiling.

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The roof top patio and gardens have some great views. (I must say I fantasized about some day retiring to this building!)

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5 comments
  1. William Cooke said:

    This post was clearly a labour of love for you, David, and it’s an especially well written one. Am I not right in believing that the last St Jude’s and its parish hall were designed by Eden Smith? He designed several houses in the neighbourhood: at least two on Boustead Avenue and two on the adjoining part of Indian Road. One was 267 Indian Road, which he designed for himself before he moved to Wychwood Park, and where, as you will remember, I lived at one time. I seem to think there was also once a rectory adjacent to St Jude’s, maybe south of the parish hall, where the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant used to be; but I could be wrong.
    I, too, managed to look into St Jude’s before it was pulled down. It was a sad sight in its stripped condition, but the beamed roof remained in all its original glory.

    • Thank you, William, for your interest and comments. This post was, as you say, a labour of love.

      I don’t see St. Judes’ listed here (http://www.dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/architects/view/1310) as an Eden Smith building. Yes, I do recall that you lived on Indian Road. In terms of the rectory, I wasn’t aware of there being a rectory on the site, but it is certainly possible. When my grandparents moved to St. Judes’ in 1955 there wasn’t a rectory, Canon Shires (who was, I believe, single) having lived in an apartment. The rectory at 215 Parkside was purchased for the Turners.

      And yes, the roof was particularly beautiful.

      Thanks again for your ongoing interest.

      • Just speaking with my mother for clarification. I was wrong about Canon Shires. He was married, and had his own home in the neighbourhood. She doesn’t recall knowing anything about another rectory, but it is possible that there was one on the site which was demolished when the Parish Hall was erected in 1929.

  2. Jill said:

    I had no idea that condo was built where a church once stood! (I much prefer the church. The condo is just a giant box that I blow past on the way to the markets on Roncie.)

    The photos of your christening were unbelievably cute tho’…I’ve never seen a christening where the minister was grinning from ear to ear before. Those are some family photos to be proud of.

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