The parish of St. James the Just (located in Downsview near Dufferin and Wilson) had a very short history of twenty-two years, with just thirteen years in its first and only building. And yet it also had a difficult birth.
After the Second World War, Downview was still largely a farming community, but farmland quickly began to be subdivided for housing. In 1946 a retired priest with the last name Ben-Oliel was appointed to begin an Anglican community. The first service was held on December 8, 1946 at the Duffield Community Hall located at Dufferin and Wilson. The building (known informally as Duffy’s Tavern, after a popular radio program at the time) had poor heat, a leaking roof, and was far from a commodious place from which to build a congregation. It was quite common for people to come once and not return.
Land for a permanent church building was purchased on Dufferin Street but the congregation was not in a position to begin to build.
In the fall of 1949, the Reverend E.A.H. Clifford was appointed to St. James and the parish of St. Lawrence, which opened the previous year south of St. James on Dufferin. The congregation continued to meet at the Community Hall until it was condemned in 1953. This caused a crisis for the congregation which had, for a time, nowhere to meet. In January of 1954 it began to meet at the Anthony Road School. The move to a better location seemed to turn attendance around. Deaconess Mabel Jones was appointed to conduct a parish survey. Making over 1000 visits (a staggering number), she identified 346 Anglican families in the community. In May of 1954 a rectory was purchased and the Reverend George Joseph Ball was assigned to the parish.
But still, there were set-backs. The congregation had to move to a rented store for the summer of 1954, after the school year ended. But by September attendance was increasing again and $40,000 in pledges (approximately $350,000 in today’s dollars) had been made for a building.
The site that had been purchased on Dufferin had, by this time, been sold and a new site purchased. Architectural drawings which had been prepared several years earlier were finally acted on and the cornerstone of the new building laid on March 6, 1955.
Construction was speedy, with the first service of the completed St. James the Just being held on June 12, 1955.
In his letter to the parish at the time of the opening of the building, Bishop Frederick Wilkinson wrote of his relief that the day had finally come: “I cannot tell you what great pleasure I have derived from the building, completing and opening of the Church of St. James-the-Just. When I first became responsible for the work of Chruch Extension I sometimes wondered whether the Church of St. James-the-Just was ever going to be completed.”
In 1959 the Reverend Marwood F. Patterson was appointed. (He is well-known now as Marney Patterson, author and evangelist.) St. James was booming. For example, at one point there were 131 children registered in the Sunday School, with an average weekly attendance of 81. The boom continued through the first half of the 1960s, but by mid-decade things had changed. The parish history refers obliquely to some controversy. Demographic changes were also having an impact on the parish. The Rector’s vestry report of 1966 refers to “quite a decline in attendance. People have been moving out and Italian people moving in.” Parish offerings plummeted 72% in one year!
By the end of 1967 the diocese gave St. James two options. Either close or amalgamate with St. Lawrence. At a Special Vestry meeting the parish decided on amalgamation. The minutes of this meeting note: “At the present time St. James has no propsects because of the incoming Italian population, and also no place to expand on account of the Airport at the north and Yorkdale at the south.”
In February 1968, St. James and St. Lawrence (now known as San Lorenzo) amalgamated. The land was sold in order to pay down the parish’s debts.
Today the building is St. Norbert Roman Catholic Church, a parish whose liturgies are offered in both Italian and English.
Unfortunately there are no interior photographs of the interior of the building when it was St. James to compare to what it looks like today.